Henri Matisse, I recently learned, spent six years of his art-student life copying the work of old masters. I’m hardly keeping up with my occasional “copy” from him and several others. And I put the word “copy” in quotes because I think of my efforts more as versions, as “après” some master’s work. And I often use different materials—here water-soluble crayons—than the master did.
Both the news of the six years and a photo reproduction of the 1914 oil painting of his daughter Marguerite in a leather hat (“Marguerite au chapeau de cuir”) I came across in an fascinating catalog: Matisse: In search of true painting, edited by Dorthe Aagesen and Rebecca Rabinow (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012).
I also recently came across a Web site entitled Matisse in his Own Words, an interesting title for a site entirely in English and thus likely containing none of Matisse’s words, these having been, presumably, in French. Also, like most every online collection of quotations, this one gave no sources for the quotes. Not as regards Matisse, but more generally, I regularly come across quotations that are attributed, without any source citations, to famous people who are extremely unlikely ever to have said or written those lines. It’s not that there’s a lot of fake news out there or that the truth has become stranger than fiction; all there is is fiction.
So we might like some of these “own words” not because they tell us anything about Matisse, but because they resonate with our own feelings about art-making.
The model must mark you, awaken in you an emotion which you seek in turn to express. . . . You study, you learn, but you guard the original naiveté. . . . Creativity takes courage.