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One of the great projects of art is to reconcile us with the world.
Now, of course, not all art wants to do that or tries to,
but from time to time, some artists do give you a glimpse
of a universe which is neither hostile or indifferent
nor indeed in much need of change.
And in such a place, you can move without strain,
because, in some way, it completes in nature.
Now, for Picasso and Matisse and for the Fauves,
the Mediterranean was such a place.
It was the sea that stood for a kind of timeless sensual satisfaction beyond history
as well as for a continuous historical tradition back to the antique past.
This is what happened to it within 60 years of the paintings they made on the coast.
Endless kitsch infinitely prolonged, a terrible parody of pressure.
No wonder their work looks like a lost paradise now.
MUSIC: Ca Plane Pour Moi, by Plastic Bertrand
Of course, the 19th century did not invent the art of pleasure.
But it broadened it.
There was some truth to Talleyrand's remarks
that those who were not alive before the Revolution,
meaning the French Revolution, did not know the sweetness of life.
For the rich, it was absolutely true.
And in fact, the pleasure principle, in 18th-century art,
belonged to one class - the aristocracy.
The great image of civilised pleasure in painting
was the fete champetre,
a gathering of people enjoying themselves in the open air.
Culture preening itself in the presence of its opposite - nature.
These picnics begin with Titian and Giorgione in the 16th century.
Antoine Watteau painted them in France in the early 18th century
and they became a staple of court art.
Thomas Gainsborough married the fete champetre to the formal portrait -
Mr and Mrs Andrews, contemplating nature as condensed in their own property.
The landscape and the figures in it, their clothes, their possessions,
all these things stand for the class that also owns the painting...
which is normal in art.
But within a few decades of the French Revolution,
there was a new ruling class in France and England -
It wanted to be depicted.
It wanted its pleasures described its life documented.
And this triumphant middle class
included not only the conservative painters,
but some of the most advanced artists of its time.
MUSIC: Pelleas Et Melisande by Gabriel Faure
For most of the last hundred years,
Impressionism has been the most popular of all art movements.
The appetite for Impressionist paintings never seems to wear off.
And at the same time,
Impressionism seems to us to represent a lost world,
a pre-modern world whose icons have very little to do
with the realities of our own time and culture.
And both these things are true for the same reason.
Around 1870, the field of paintable pleasure dramatically widened.
Impressionism found its subjects
in pleasures which nearly everybody above street level could have,
including the life of the painters themselves and of their friends.
One thing they all had in common
was the feeling that the life of the city and the village,
and the cafes and the parks, the salons, the bedrooms,
the seaside and the banks of the Seine could become a vision of Eden.
A world of ripeness and bloom, with an untroubled sense of wholeness.
MUSIC: Pelleas Et Melisande, by Gabriel Faure
The Impressionists had their moment
at the start of the longest continuous peace
that Europe would ever know.
44 years from 1870 to 1914,
a lost world that you need to be very old to remember.
By the middle '80s, the Impressionist love of spontaneity
was being challenged by younger artists.
They saw it as the dictatorship of the eye over the mind.
The unit, the building block of Impressionism,
had been the brush stroke, which was as personal as handwriting.
The greatest of the younger artists was Georges Seurat,
who replaced the stroke with the dot.
Hundreds of them, thousands.
The dot was impersonal.
It grew in colonies, like coral.
It stiffened the shapes and gave them the archaic, Egyptian stillness
that Seurat contrived as the antidote to the Impressionist love of the moment.
Above all, the dot meant control of colour, step by step.
Seurat's eye for colour was one of the subtlest in all art history,
and he wanted each touch to have
the analytic clearness of scientific thought.
His subject matter was that of Impressionism,
but his aims were not.
He wanted to give his images the density and permanence
of classical art - order, system, dignity.
He didn't want snapshots,
he wanted to reveal the processional aspect of modern life,
something formal and rigorous and akin to the heroic dandyism
that Baudelaire had seen in Paris 30 years before.
"I want to show the moderns moving about on friezes,
"stripped to their essentials.
"To place them in paintings arranged in harmonies of colours,
"in harmonies of lines, line and colour fitted to each other."
He did this in an enormous painting
of Parisians strolling on a Sunday afternoon
on grassy island in the Seine, called La Grande Jatte.
Here, the middle class at play got the ceremonious nobility of treatment
that art once reserved for gods and kings.
Here, pleasure takes on the gravity of history painting.
Seurat built his space like a Renaissance fresco,
with the most exacting precision.
It's held together by complicated rhymes and chords of shape,
some of which you hardly notice at first.
The woman fishing there is the twin
of that tiny figure in the extreme distance.
The monkey's tail emulates the hook of the dandy's cane.
The decorum of posture and gesture,
the distances people allow themselves on that green lawn,
is turned into the decorum of classical art itself.
He's a bit ironic about his middle-class moderns.
They guide about on the grass like tin toys on wheels.
But the irony is part of the modernity.
Just because it is a distanced painting,
it makes you aware of its semantics,
and the spectacle of art as a language fascinated Seurat.
He had grasped that there is something atomised, divided,
about Modernist awareness.
To build a unified meaning,
the subject had to be broken down into molecules and fragments,
and then reassembled under the eye of formal order.
Hence the dots.
You can make reality permanent
by displaying it as a web of tiny stillnesses.
That is what La Grande Jatte was really about.
Infinite division, infinite relationships.
Claude Monet had come to the same place by a different route.
If Monet had died in the same year as Seurat, 1891,
we'd honour him as the essential Impressionist and, sooner or later, pass on by.
None of the Impressionists had praised the surface of landscape more eloquently.
He was to trees and grass and wind what Renoir was to women's skin.
But at the same time,
not very much that Monet painted before his 50th birthday
had the complete reflective permanence of great art.
The problem was to deepen the game of seeing,
to show that the eye was connected to the brain,
with its immense powers of discrimination.
But, to do that, one must posses the subject.
This kind of meditation needs pleasure, and not pain.
It has to come from the centre of the self,
and not from its disturbed edges.
The novelist Gustave Flaubert once remarked that,
"Art is a luxury, it requires calm, white hands."
And I suppose, the supreme example of this in the life of a painter
is the garden which Claude Monet built for himself at Giverny
about 50 miles outside Paris.
Ten years later, in 1893,
Monet was past 50 when he started work on the second half,
which was a water garden across the road.
Now, this project obsessed him for 30 years.
At first, the authorities didn't want him to do it at all
because he wanted to divert a little stream nearby
and they were afraid it was going to cause a water shortage.
Well, it didn't.
But what it did do was supply him
with the motifs for his greatest paintings
for the last half of his life.
His water garden was a work of art, and it released a stream of others.
Pottering around in it, he was in complete control.
He had made the subject as well as the paintings.
It was, as one art historian rather elegantly put it,
"His hareem of nature."
And so, all of late Monet is right here,
that endless inspection and contemplation of a drowned, reflected world -
the sky in the water, the lily pads, the willows
and this Japanese bridge.
MUSIC: The Harp And The French Impressionist by Maurice Ravel
The pond was as artificial as painting itself.
It was flat, as a painting is.
What showed on it, the clouds and lily pads and cat's-paws of wind,
was caught in a shallow space,
just on the surface, like the space of painting.
The willows touched it like brushes.
No foreground, no background -
a web of connections.
Monet's water lilies were a slice of infinity.
In them, emptiness matters as much as fullness,
reflections have the weight of things.
To seize the indefinite, to fix what is unstable,
to give form to sights so complex, so nuanced, that they can hardly be named.
This was a basic project of Modernism.
It went against the smug view of reality that materialism gives us.
And it could only be developed in a context of visual pleasure.
Its other pioneer, but a very different one, was Paul Cezanne.
From 1880 to the year of this death, 1906,
Cezanne spent most of his time working here,
in the South of France, in a studio outside Aix-en-Provence.
This studio is one of the sacred places of the modern mind,
a kind of reliquary.
But the irritable diabetic ghost who haunts it still baffles us,
partly because he spent those 25 years secluded in a small town
and we don't know much about what he really thought,
and partly too because so much later painting
claimed Cezanne as its ancestor.
In an earlier programme, I mentioned Cezanne's effect on Cubism
as a painter looking for structures in a welter of uncertainties -
a genius of doubt.
Which he was.
But he never imagined Cubism
and he would have loathed the very idea of abstract painting.
The one great desire of his work was to return you to the world,
to the look and feel of things,
to prove the coherence of what he saw
when he looked, for example, at some onions on a table.
MUSIC: French Music For Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc
He took an enormous amount of time and trouble over his paintings,
sitting after sitting.
By the time a still life was finished,
the onions were sprouting, the apples withered.
The landscape could not decay
and Cezanne made a point of trudging out to his view, day after day,
lugging his portable easel in all weathers,
until he died of a chill
that he caught from painting in the open air.
He was a Provencal,
and his art proclaims that before it says anything else.
This landscape was in his blood - clear, bony, archaic
and as recognisable on an instinctive level
as taste of olives or cold water.
And what did he paint? Approximations.
The art schools used to teach
that Cezanne wanted to reduce nature to spheres and cubes and cylinders.
This is nonsense. He was a most ungeometrical painter.
Instead of clear forms, he set down tiny adjustments.
You see him engaging his subject, inch by inch, minute by minute.
Cezanne had no time for smooth generalisations.
And by the end of his life,
he wasn't interested in the Impressionist snapshot either -
the one day painting that set down one scene
under one fleeting condition of light.
He painted the same motifs over and over again
without ever once repeating himself.
The hill that became his emblem was Mont Ste-Victoire, outside Aix.
He wanted his images to be the accumulated evidence of thought,
every painting a deposit, a sort of uneven crust of observations.
The more he painted, the more he saw.
And the more he saw, the more manifold and unattainable truth became.
No painter ever achieved more in such isolation.
Instead of facility, he had an immense scrupulousness.
And so, he was frustrated most of the time, right up to the end.
A few weeks before his death, he wrote a letter to his son in Paris.
"I must tell you that, as a painter,
"I am becoming more clear-sighted before nature.
"But with me, the realisation of my sensations is always painful.
"I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses.
"I do not have the magnificent richness of colouring that animates nature."
But the idea that nature is endless suggests that it is also paradise.
And other painters than Cezanne believed so too.
MUSIC: Printemps by Claude Debussy
What happened was that artists were looking for the kind of landscape
that suited the pictures they wanted to do.
Van Gogh's disappearance to Arles was part of that,
and so were the trips that Derain and Matisse
made to Collioure in the early 1900s.
What they were looking for was a greater purity of natural sensation.
Instead of grey Paris, they wanted the blue sky and the silvery olives
and the red earth and the lavender.
It wasn't a question of detaching colour from nature.
Rather the aim was to find in nature
a special kind of chromatic intensity -
colour that spoke directly to the psyche
and could be concentrated on a canvas.
The man who did most to bring in the idea of independent, symbolic colour
and free its role in art
was a brilliant, histrionic fugitive named Paul Gauguin.
Now, everybody knows something about him. He was the archetypal dropout.
The man who gave up banking to paint,
who went half crazy with his mad friend, Van Gogh,
trying to set up and artists' commune in the Yellow House at Arles,
and who left his wife for the embraces of the Tahitians.
What provoked his famous escape was the great Paris exposition,
which had a Tahitian sideshow and travel brochures which read,
"The lucky inhabitants of the remote South Seas paradise of Tahiti know life only at its brightest."
The idea of the noble savage,
living in a blissful state of virtue in the fruitful bosom of nature,
was one of the great fantasies of European thought,
and Tahiti was the proof that this creature existed.
So the myth of Tahiti blossomed very quickly.
Moreover, Paradise was a French colony.
So in 1891, Gauguin set off, cheered on by his friends and admirers
who, nevertheless, wisely stayed in Paris.
Instead of paradise, he found a trading port.
Instead of noble savages, prostitutes.
A culture wrecked by bibles and booze,
its rituals dead, its memory lost,
its population down from 40,000 in Captain Cook's time
to 6,000 in Gauguin's.
So the paradise Gauguin painted was deceptive, even pessimistic,
a lost Eden full of cultural ghosts.
And his Tahitians were like survivors of a golden age
that they could not remember.
"Those nymphs, I want to perpetuate them,
"with the golden skins,
"their searching animal odour,
"their tropical savours."
It was his colour that pointed to the future.
The colours of Tahiti were brilliant,
and Gauguin used them with a moody intensity.
He believed that colour could act almost like words,
that it held an exact counterpart for every emotion
and every nuance of feeling.
Colour became the interpreter between the mind and the world.
It was a language made up of patches on a flat surface.
Its job was to express rather than to describe.
For younger painters, this was a tremendous liberty.
But they wanted to use it inside France,
and its natural theatre was the South.
For colour was the sign of vitality, the emblem of well-being.
MUSIC: La Belle Excentrique by Erik Satie
What came out of this was a movement named Fauvism,
which essentially meant the work of the three painters
in the early 1900s -
Maurice de Vlaminck
and Henri Matisse.
The word "fauve" means wild beast.
It was a tag given them in 1905 by a dubious critic
who had been offended by the intensity of their paintings.
And what they produced was less a movement than an episode -
a meeting of instincts among painters who liked strong sensation,
but had no binding theory.
If you can imagine an aesthetic based solely on exhilaration,
this came close to it.
MUSIC: Traditional Folk Music Of Great Britain And France. L'Esprit De Paris
The master of reflection within pleasure was Henri Matisse.
He was born in 1869 and he died in 1954.
And nowhere in the span of his work
do you feel a trace of the alienation and conflict
to which Modernism consigned us.
His studio was a place of equilibrium
that produced images of refuge for 60 continuous years.
In 1904, Matisse got interested in Seurat's technique of pointillism,
the coloured dots that were being used by his followers,
among them, Matisse's friend, the painter Signac.
Signac had a house at St Tropez
and Matisse went there in the summer of 1904.
The result was one of those awkward demonstration pieces of modern art,
where Matisse's literary instincts
merged with his fantasies about Arcadia,
a picnic by the sea at St Tropez,
with a lateen rigged boat and a pine tree
and a cluster of spotty, bulbous nudes,
and a thoroughly Baudelairean title -
Luxury, Calm And Pleasure.
It was Matisse's first image of the Mediterranean as a state of mind.
A clumsy painting but a portent.
In 1905, Matisse went with Andre Derain
to paint in the little coastal village of Collioure,
near the Spanish border.
This was one of the crucial moments in the short history of Fauvism,
because at Collioure,
both men painted their most radical pictures so far.
This was the point at which Matisse's colour broke free.
Thick blobs of paint one moment, bare canvas the next,
and the harsh glitter of local colour
to mimic the dazzle of afternoon light on the water.
The new Matisses were very shocking indeed.
Their defenders were uncertain about them
and their detractors thought them barbaric.
Particularly offensive was Matisse's use of this new colour system,
discordant and ragged, in the familiar matrix of the salon portrait -
even though the victim was his wife.
Time and again, Matisse set down an image of a pre-civilised world,
Eden before the fall.
Gauguin's dream, inhabited by men and women without a history,
languid as plants or energetic as animals.
The primitive look of these two huge paintings,
The Dance and Music, still throws you.
Matisse presents his image of music at its origins,
enacted by half a dozen naked cavemen, prehistorical,
pre-social almost, and definitely pre-technological.
A reed flute or two, the slap of hand on skin,
and yet, how powerful that editing down is.
The simplest elements, Earth, sky, body,
each allotted its own local colour, and nothing more.
And within that simplicity, what energy.
The Dance is one of the few entirely convincing images of ecstasy
made in the 20th century.
That circle of twisting,
stamping maenads takes you right back down the line
to the red figure vases of Greece, and beyond them to the caves.
It tries to be as old as dance itself.
Matisse got the idea in the summer of 1905 at Collioure,
while watching some fishermen and peasants in a circular dance.
TRADITIONAL FOLK MUSIC
The other side of this coin was an intense interest in civilised craft -
Islamic pottery, Persian miniatures.
Matisse loved pattern, and through it, he gives you
the illusion of a completely full world, where everything,
background, foreground and in-between acts equally on the eye.
One of the results was The Red Studio, which he painted in 1912.
On one hand, he wants to bring you into the painting,
to make you fall into it, like walking through the looking glass.
That box of crayons is put just under your hand,
as it was under his.
But then, it isn't a real space, and because it's all soaked in red,
a red beyond ordinary experience,
it describes itself as a fiction, as art.
Like a Persian miniature, it's all inlaid pattern.
And more than that, everything in it is a work either of art or of craft.
The paintings are Matisse's.
So are the sculptures.
The only hint of nature is the plant,
but it's a very tame plant, a house plant trying to be a work of art,
and it's trained to rhyme with the curves of that chair.
And those curves are also reflected on the other side of the room
in a pink painting of a nude.
So the red studio is, among other things,
a poem about how painting refers to itself,
how art nourishes itself from other art,
and how, to this cast of mind, art can form its own republic of pleasure,
a Switzerland, a parenthesis within the real-world,
In 1916, Matisse moved more or less permanently
to the south of France, to Nice.
He found an apartment in the Hotel Regina,
named after Queen Victoria, who had stayed there.
When the Great War broke out in 1914,
he was 45, too old to fight,
too wise to imagine that his painting
could interpose itself between history and its victims,
and too certain of his aims as an artist to change them, anyway.
I don't suppose that any great artist since the 18th century
has so devoted his work to an idea of comfort and refuge.
Matisse once said that he wanted his art to have the effect of a good armchair upon a tired businessman.
Now, 20 years ago, when we thought that art was going to change the world,
this seemed, at best, rather a limited aim.
But now that I'm sure that it can't and it won't,
I can only admire Matisse's common sense.
He thought that an educated bourgeoisie is the one audience that an advanced art can claim,
and it seems that history has shown he was right.
Anyway, this is where he lived and what he painted -
the great indoors.
And how fitting it is that so many of Matisse's best paintings
should have been done in apartments and hotels.
The room is a metaphor of their nature - a private place,
always fresh, signifying luxury.
The playpen of the adult mind. A womb with a view.
And the common theme of Matisse's Mediterranean interiors
is that of looking out on benevolent nature from a position of absolute security.
The filter between those two worlds is the shutters.
MUSIC: "Concertino Pour Piano Et Orchestre" by Jean Francaix
"My purpose is to render my emotion.
"This state of soul is created by the objects which surround me
"and which react in me, from the horizon to myself.
"I express as naturally the space and the objects which are situated there
"as if I had only the sea and the sky in front of me.
"That is the simplest thing in the world."
"In order to paint my pictures,
"I need to remain for several days in the same state of mind,
"and I don't find this in any atmosphere but that of the Cote d'Azur."
There were other painters who believed
their emotional temperature was always right on the Mediterranean.
Notably, Pierre Bonnard, who, after years of painting trips to the south,
finally moved to this house near Cannes in 1925.
Matisse would never have lived in a garden like this.
In some ways, Bonnard was his opposite,
the little bourgeois against the grand one.
A poet of unpruned domestic intimacy, rather than of the grand apartment.
Matisse's compositions carried an air of formal grandeur,
of declamation in the high tradition of French art,
but Bonnard's did not.
In still life, he took things as he found them,
or at least he painted them to seem so.
The arrangement of jugs and bowls and plates on that breakfast table seems fragile and chancy -
they've strayed into view.
And even when the still life is more arranged, like this one,
he vaporises it with colour and with loose brushwork
so that it seems soft, half-formed, ready to disappear, as moments do.
Everything in Bonnard is seen with the private eye, not the public one.
The food about the house, the flowers around the house,
and the woman.
She is almost always the same woman, Marie Boursin.
Bonnard met her in 1894, and after a liaison that lasted
more than 30 years, he finally married her.
They then lived together until 1942, when she died.
Far from being the contented painter's wife in a cottage in the South of France,
she was a nagging, jealous shrew, who made life impossible for him and his friends,
knew nothing about painting, and couldn't even cook.
But he was utterly and masochistically loyal to her.
Bonnard was obsessed with the facts of domesticity
and the memories of sexual pleasure, the privacy and the glimpsing,
the feeling that the eye is privileged, a party to all secrets.
The sexuality of early Bonnard is still amazing.
At a certain point around 1920, she stops getting older.
When she was 60, Bonnard was still painting her 30-year-old body.
But she is always apart, self-absorbed, spied on.
The perpetual Susanna in her bath,
with Bonnard as the perpetually peeping elder,
dissolving her in light, reconstituting her in colour,
possessing her again and again from a distance.
MUSIC: "Pavane De La Belle Au Bois Dormant" by Ravel
The greatest painter of disciplined pleasure between the wars was Georges Braque.
In 1915, a fracture opened in Braque's career.
He joined the army and he was shot in the head.
There was no brain damage, but he couldn't paint for some years.
When he got back to the easel, he had decided once and for all
that he could push no further towards abstraction.
"There is in nature," he remarked, "a tactile, I almost mean manual space."
And this is what he explored in the still lifes of the '20s and '30s.
If ever a group of paintings made concrete the desire
for measure, sublimation, attention and calm, it was these.
The objects are ordinary - a guitar, newspapers, bottles,
the routine subjects of cubism.
But each is given its exact visual weight.
He wanted to distribute one's attention across the painting
as evenly as possible.
What all this meant was an ambition different from Cubism,
to pick up and reassemble the pieces of the French tradition
of still life painting that Braque, as a cubist, had helped to shatter.
The result is solider than cubism, less hypothetical.
He even mixed sand with his paint to give it more body,
to endow it with a more resistant surface, like fresco,
and to insist upon a slowness of inspection
parallel to the immense deliberation which he brought to the act of painting.
There wasn't very much in Picasso's output over the same 25 years
that could really equal that kind of frozen music,
but then, Picasso had no talent for serenity.
His whole idea of pleasure was much more prehensile than Braque's.
He wanted to seize and touch and absorb and enter the objects of the Mediterranean.
He liked strong, specific sensations.
The strongest node of feeling was sex.
Picasso never tried to hide what he felt about it, and when his fear of woman was aroused,
and it often was, he had to paint it out.
So, at one end of the scale,
he produced some of the most demonic images of women ever done.
This isn't distortion, it's more like dismemberment,
killing the witch.
But on the other hand, he painted some of the most intense images of
sexual pleasure in all modern art.
They were provoked by his affair with a woman named
Marie-Therese Walther, whom he met in 1931.
In the paintings, her body becomes not so much a structure of flesh and bone,
as a series of orifices, looped together by that sinuous line,
tender, composed, swollen, abandoned.
The point is not that Picasso managed to will himself into the skin of this woman - not at all.
He depicted his own state of arousal,
and projected it on his lover's body like an image on a screen.
Her body is reformed in the shape of his desire,
and it's recognisable to anyone.
It was about this time that Picasso began to mythologise himself
as THE Mediterranean artist,
with a series of etchings called The Vollard Suite.
One part of this marvellous cycle is autobiographical,
or, at any rate, in a loose way, self descriptive.
The sculptor and his model, she the passive and obliging nymph,
and he the genius of the place, a sort of river god in costume.
These prints where Picasso's invocation of the past.
The enabled him to place himself in Arcadia.
The Vollard Suite was one of the most convincing parts
of a general revival of antiquity
seen in terms of the cult of the sun, of pleasure and the healthy body
that went on in the 1920s and spilled over into the 1930s.
It goes without saying that there was a much more complicated
and doubt-ridden Picasso behind these antique simplicities.
Picasso's image as the old man of the sea was to some extent a role,
just as Hemingway's famous cojones were a mask worn on the groin.
Nevertheless, The Vollard Suite remains the last major work of art
to be directly inspired by the classical Mediterranean.
It's the end of an immense tradition that lasted for more than 2,500 years,
and then perished amid the historical disjuncture,
the suffering, the physical ruin and the irony of the 20th century.
Within 40 years of the completion of The Vollard Suite, officials in Athens
were debating whether to remove the caryatids from the Acropolis
and replace them with fibreglass copies, and the whole Cote d'Azur
was one mass of pinball machines and pizza parlours from end to end.
Of course, the more the tradition receded, the more famous Picasso became.
He turned into a kind of living fetish object.
He was famous as no other artist ever had been.
But none of his later Arcadian images would carry
quite the same conviction as The Vollard Suite,
because World War II had killed the classical Mediterranean
just as surely as World War I killed the Belle Epoque.
One of the first tremors of modernism
is in a poem by Mallarme called The Afternoon Of A Faune,
and its very first line runs, "I would perpetuate these nymphs."
Picasso's motto, too.
But those nymphs couldn't survive except as a sort of dumb decor after Auschwitz and Hiroshima,
or even after Guernica.
And Picasso's efforts to maintain an Arcadian art in his old age
began to look less and less convincing.
This didn't happen with the ageing Matisse,
whose art in the early 1940s
was suddenly clarified by a brush with death.
There was long surgery, and then a long convalescence.
"My terrible operation has completely rejuvenated
"and made a philosopher of me.
"I had so completely prepared for my exit from life,
"that it seems to me that I am in a second life."
He expressed this rebirth not with a brush,
and with scissors and coloured paper.
He cut out shapes and pinned them on a wall or a sheet of paper,
and cutting straight into colour, he said,
reminded him of the direct carving of a sculptor.
It linked drawing and colour in one sweep of the hand.
The images were like heraldic emblems of pleasure,
signs for well-being.
At an age when most painters
are either dead or repeating themselves,
Matisse had re-entered the avant-garde, and redefined it.
These cut outs were the most advanced painting
and perhaps the most august being made in Europe.
They showed the wholeness of gesture that most abstract painting wanted,
but didn't always reach.
The fast coordination of hand, mind, eye and memory
as the scissors flowed through the paper.
One cut, the essence of decision.
And then the pleasurable digestion - moving the shapes around,
pinning them here and here until the harmony was reached.
The cut-outs summed up what he had learnt about Islamic art
over the years since his first visits to North Africa and Spain.
One of their sources lies in Moorish tiles in the walls
of the Alhambra in Granada.
But they were more than decorative, because Matisse,
more than any other artist except Picasso,
had saturated his work in the memory of physical sensation -
of sunshine and water, the ecstasy of healthy bodies,
salt and wine and flowers.
The Mediterranean world, which he evoked for the last time
in a frieze of diving figures, The Swimming Pool.
This was his farewell to a subject which had been
one of the tests of an artist's virtuosity since the 15th century.
The human animal in energetic movement,
the body stripped of its guilt, an end in itself.
Between 1947 and 1951, Matisse was continuously busy with
what he called "the last stage in an entire lifetime of work,
"and the apex of an immense, sincere and difficult effort."
It was also probably the last major work of art
that Catholicism would be able to evoke in our century,
and this was the Dominican Chapel here in Vence,
for which he designed just about everything -
the murals, the stained-glass windows, the crucifix, the lot.
MUSIC: "Flute Sonata" by Francis Poulenc
It was a hard act to follow.
In secular terms, there was everything to be learned from Matisse.
He was the most influential painter of the third quarter of the 20th century,
as Picasso had been of the second quarter, and Cezanne of the first.
Especially in America.
But, there was something in his work that wouldn't transplant across the Atlantic.
What wouldn't transplant was its Mediterranean-ness,
that ease and sensuous completeness that was rooted in Matisse's own youth.
This wasn't a matter of style,
it was a matter of a complete attitude towards life and how to live it,
and how to sustain human relationships which came out of the 19th century,
and, for thousands of people, was wrecked by the last world war.
After that, you could paint Matisses, certainly, but you couldn't BE Matisse.
That particular paradise was closed,
especially if you happened to live in a highly utilitarian society
fuelled by pragmatism and guilt, like post-Freudian America.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd.