30 December 2023

Marquet, Matisse, McEnroe and Borg


This morning I stumbled across this watercolour while looking for something from Paris back in November, 2018. It's a terrible photo from my phone taken at the Musée Marmottan in Paris. At first glance, I didn't quickly recognise it as a picture by Albert Marquet, yet at the same time it somehow felt so very familiar to me. What was it that I had recognised? Then I perceived that it was that feeling, that artistic sensibility of Marquet uniquely embedded in its DNA through its composition and drawing construction and overall gentle sense of light. 

I am a huge fan of Albert Marquet, I've always been since I began looking at his work. He was an unabashed sensualist, and to whom no doubt, I identified with so ardently. I was drawn in as a humming bird is to the heart of the honeysuckle.

Indeed, in my opinion he was far more of a sensualist than his close and dear friend, Henri Matisse, who achieved superstar status late in his career principally because he was far more of an adventurer in the newer and unexplored regions of Painting. 

To be sure, Marquet was more comfortable within the confines of traditional painting motifs, as is easily seen in this watercolour. And because of this he was a 'steadier' painter than Matisse. What I mean is that his brilliance is even-handed. Perhaps I could explain this in tennis terms, if there are any old timers out there; Marquet was to Matisse as was Björn Borg to Jon McEnroe back in the comfortable world of the base line. Like McEnroe, who expanded the game of serve and volley, Matisse ventures far out of his comfort zone (and our own) but can sometimes miss the mark. When he is on, he is the best, so don't get me wrong, I love Matisse, but because he was so willing to experiment, he naturally failed more, often producing stilted and somewhat academic work. Marquet was never an academic, but he was very attached to older certain traditions.

I became aware of Marquet's painting when I was still a child and without any understanding about art yet I was naturally drawn to his work. Why is that? Why is someone drawn to certain works of art? But whatever it is, isn't it great? Isn't it what keeps art alive in our cultural community? 

Much later in life, I fell in love with his drawings which really got me out into the streets where (and when) I finally realised just how much I had always despised actually drawing from the model indoors. Marquet's spontaneous drawings, along with those of Léo Marchutz, were to become my biggest influence later in life when I found my own assurance with crayon and paper. The most coveted book in my library is a thick catalogue full of his ink drawings from an exhibition I once saw. In these drawings I sense that he is a far superior draftsman than Matisse when using ink and brush, though I would decidedly be in the minority on this. Where Marquet is fluid and somewhat 'Japanese' in a 'zen' sort of spirit, Matisse is stilted and dry, as if trying to still please his Beaux Arts professors. Though later on in his life, Matisse did open up to a more fluid way of drawing, it also became more stylised too, unfortunately.

Anyway, as always, there is so much to say about all of this,,,,,,(sigh). I am harsh concerning Matisse, my ideas disturb because after all, he is a kind God for even the Post-Modernists who grudgingly give him a pass despite his love for the figurative world and his colourful love of joy.

But getting back to this watercolour, it appears so generously indulgent. What I mean is that the black boat next to the bridge is pivotal to its perspective as it steers us through the Venetian light of the sea and which gradually recedes into the distance. 

I love the pale coloured bridge, full of tiny black, ant-like pedestrians who succeed in placing the 'foreground' really up front, in front of everything else. It's enough to push everything else back into the painting. What a solution! This is what it's all about.

And speaking of solution, is it not the reason why some painters really love certain pictures? Our affection isn't always because a particular painting looks good or because it answers something inside us (though these are reasons enough to love a painting), is it not because as painters, we wildly admire the solutions that are solved within the complex parameters of each picture? And is it not like that for any vocation practiced with diligent care?

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