Matisse by Murnau


Matisse in Tahiti, spring 1930
after a photo by F. W. Murnau
Charcoal and graphite, 7 x 10 inches


I inherited a wonderful, weighty tome on Matisse from a late artist's sister-in-law (and friend of mine) last fall — Henri Matisse: A Retrospective by John Elderfield. It's a book that accompanied a Museum of Modern Art exhibit from September 1992 - January 1993.

Leafing through in search of another painting to copy, I stopped at one photo and thought, "Wow! That's really a good composition. Almost cinematic."

Well, no wonder! I looked a little closer to see that the photograph was taken by F. W. Murnau. The F. W. Murnau? I did a bit of research and yes, the F. W. Murnau.
"He [Murnau] discovered Takaroa lagoon, a 'marvel of color' in which the green of the ocean shaded to the blue of the sky and the downy white of the clouds, in contrast to the red of the natives' loin-cloths. Nowhere was the color so alive and vibrant as here on the atolls of the Paumotis. It was there that Murnau met Matisse, who said 'the color here is a revelation.'"
—from Murnau By Lotte H. Eisner
When I was reading up on Murnau, who's poignant film Nosferatu is a great favorite, I learned that Bram Stoker's (Dracula) widow sued Murnau for copyright infringement and won. The judgement ordered that all copies of Nosferatu be destroyed. Thank god some prints were saved!

Click here to watch the entire silent film Nosferatu.

So I used this photo to try out a combo of General's charcoal pencils and graphites. Smooth. Their mediums apply so beautifully. But charcoal is just too clunky for details (even with sharpened points), too messy for me unless I'm doing quick figure sketches (which is almost never.) However, the charcoal pencils are nice and I'll try them out on some better suited paper, on a subject requiring less detail.

This Matisse monograph wasn't the only book I inherited from Mary Campbell and I'll probably be copying from others. Many thanks to my friend, Margaret for giving me these great resources.

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