Do not paint too much after nature. Art is an abstraction; derive this abstraction from nature while dreaming before it, and think more of the creation which will result... -- Paul GauguinWhen Paul Gauguin wrote these words to a fellow artist, he espoused the core ideas of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Until the late 19th-century, state-supported academies regulated artistic taste in France, preferring classically inspired scenes rendered in a polished, realistic style. The Impressionists rejected these standards with their depictions of landscapes and modern daily life. Especially interested in fleeting moments and in the changing effects of light, they developed a new style by painting from direct observations in pure, bright colors, and by adopting unusual forms and perspectives, often inspired by Japanese prints. By the time the Impressionists organized their first independent exhibition in 1874, a new generation already saw their work as outdated. Although this new group, called the Post-Impressionists, maintained the Impressionists' belief in the artificiality of pictures, they dismissed the spontaneity and naturalism of their work. Instead, some sought to include more symbolism in their paintings while others explored new theories of structure and color meant to increase their emotional and aesthetic effect. This room is filled with the results of these new and, at the time, revolutionary attitudes.
Seek the strongest color effect possible -- the content is of no importance. When I put a green, it is not grass; when I put a blue, it is not the sky.With provocative statements like these, Henri Matisse led a revolutionary group of young French painters who focused on the expressive power of pure color. Understanding color as a rapturous event, they freed it from its age-old task of matching reality and granted it an independent, evocative power. When the group first exhibited their shockingly colorful canvases in Paris in 1905, outraged viewers dismissed them as "les fauves," "the wild beasts." Despite the uproar, Matisse and his fellow Fauves quickly emerged as some of the most influential artistic innovators of the early 20th century. Matisse himself would become a major force in modern art, his legacy rivaled only by Pablo Picasso. Henri Matisse: Harmonious Color traces the arc of the artist's long career, from the explosive Fauve masterpieces of his early years through his late works of the 1940s and '50s. While his aesthetic interests evolved across the decades, he continuously explored the opulence and sensuality of brilliant color. This is the second in a series of exhibitions -- Collection Conversations -- that explores modern European and American masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the Chrysler. The series continues throughout 2015 and will include exhibitions devoted to the art of Arshile Gorky and Georgia O'Keeffe. The Chrysler is grateful to the National Gallery of Art for its participation in Collection Conversations and its willingness to lend so generously from its collection.