Better with Age
The creative impulse improves as well as declines.
Mar 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 24 • By DAVID GELERNTER
The catalog and curators don’t tell us much about Matisse’s unique color genius, but the paintings tell us everything. He is famous for his ability to use black as a hue, but his greatest virtuosity is reserved for green. No color has a greater range of separable nuances; and the hardest of all colors to use isn’t black but plain, bright, kindergarten green. Which is an oddly shocking color: You can buy large assortments of pastels from many leading makers and discover not one plain, bright green in any of them. Matisse is one of the few painters in history who uses this color effectively. Like van Gogh, Degas, Stuart Davis, and de Kooning, he prefers opaque color. In his greatest paintings (nearly all of them late), the colors tend to be laid on with hardly any variation within a color zone. These habits of opacity and uniform color-zones made it natural for him to work in cutouts, cut sheets of uniformly colored paper pasted together and painted in gouache (opaque watercolor).