Henri Matisse’s bright and deceptively simple painting seems to viewers either full of life, or full of ominous portent. It seems to work somewhat like a litmus test.
The figures first appeared in his painting The Joy of Living -- “this musical canvas” a critic called
it in 1906. Dance, Matisse once said, evoked “life and rhythm.” To the curators of NY’s Museum of Modern Art, “these are no ordinary dancers, but mythical creatures in a timeless landscape.”
Life and rhythm are what I see here – that broken circle is about to be exuberantly rejoined, not irretrievably broken.
NB 1: Read more about the Fauvist art movement, of which Matisse was a leading member, here.
NB 2: Jonathan Jones discusses the painting's fascinating history on the occasion last year of its frst visit to Britain. Says he:
It is the most glorious work of art we will see this year. Savage and classical, ancient and modern, civilised and barbaric: Dance is all these things. Its beauty comes from a time and a place when art was being remade. It is a blazing modernist banner of desire...
In the first decade of the 20th century, any adult - including Matisse, born in 1869 - would have grown up in the Victorian age. Even in Paris, where artists had long made a virtue of shocking moralists, sex was disreputable - it is what happened in brothels depicted by Toulouse-Lautrec. Now, suddenly, here is Matisse's Dance, a painting that declares there is no higher, no more human thing than to dance in naked ecstasy: to burn with passion.