The Conversation, 1908-1912 by Henri Matisse

The Conversation, painted in the artist's country house in the summer of 1909, is one of the important works Matisse produced during the highly productive period 1908-1913. Only slightly smaller than The Dessert: Harmony in Red, the images are simplified, minimalised. The central figures of Matisse and his wife Amelie are schematic, while still retaining a portrait likeness. Most importantly, whilst depicting a moment in real life, Matisse "captures the truer and more profound meaning behind it, which serves the artist as a point of departure for a more consistent interpretation of reality," as he himself wrote in 1908. We enter into the blue world of the "Conversation", sink deep into the atmosphere of colour. The blue colour does not represent solidity; this is not the colour of the carpet or the colour of the wall. Filling a large part of the paintign space, the blue bears the concept of space through the force of the associations it gives rise to. It is cold; it is emotional and significant; it excites us with its profundity. Submitting to the blue's dominance, the green becomes not only the colour of the meadow but a symbol of the earth, a symbol of Life, an image which is reinforced by the straight, strong trunk of "the tree of life".

Aside from the richest and lushest colors in any Matisse, The Conversation has much to recommend it to us humble observers. It is, for starters, the elegant confrontation of a man and a woman, in which Madame Matisse is bedecked in dark finery that would befit Queen Isabella greeting Columbus and, yet, Matisse himself stands grander still. Under his own brush, Matisse is tall, thin (!), regal and commanding, while still wearing the pajamas (which happened to serve double duty in the bedroom and the studio).

The picture has a double center: The lush window view, a Garden of Eden in the rearview mirror, symbolizing the past, fleeting happiness of a contentious couple and the extraordinary patch of blue, heralding the abstracting gestures to come in so many future Matisses, all the way to the cutouts three decades in the future. Yet, The Conversation is also a metaphor of art's progress - the overdressed, thoughtful, seated woman symbolizing the realist past and the erect yet casual man the brilliant painterly future of fields of color bedecked in perceptual approximations, which Matisse, beginning with The Conversation, made his own.