La Femme au Chapeau

I really love the use of bright colors in all of these paintings. However, my favorite one is La Femme au Chapeau (Woman with a Hat) by Henri Matisse…

Henri Matisse, La Femme au Chapeau, 1905

The painting is a closely cropped image of a woman seated in a chair. Her body is angled at a three-quarter view. The woman looks at the painter, and thus the viewer. She has a very serious look. She wears an extravagant hat that fills more than one third of the composition of the painting. Wearing a glove, she also holds a fan to her chest. Her hat, glove, and fan indicate that she is interested in fashion. Although the portrait is set against a blank background, based on the way the woman is dressed, it is clear that the setting is not at home.

La Femme au Chapeau (Woman with a Hat) is actually a portrait of Matisse’s wife, Amélie Parayre. However, in this painting, it seems that Matisse is more interested in capturing color than he is in capturing the unique personality of his wife. He uses dramatic slashes of color to form the shape of his wife’s face. In the painting, he applies, bright and vivid greens, reds, purples, yellows, and blues. He also uses those colors to create many different patterns in the hat of the woman and in her dress.

Many scholars believe that because the name of the sitter is absent in the title of the painting (La Femme au Chapeau (Woman with a Hat)), Matisse intended for this painting to be a study of form, the human figure, and of color as opposed to a traditional portrait. However, art historian T. J. Clark makes the argument that Matisse’s treatment of his wife is actually quite personal. Amélie Parayre was a milliner who made hats for a living. She had been making hats professionally since the age of twenty-three (she was thirty-three in 1905, the year of this painting). Amélie opened her own hat shop and used her earnings to support her husband’s career as an artist. However, he shop soon failed and in 1905, she was just reemerging as a milliner. Amélie’s career’s ups and downs mirrored that of her husband’s. For this reason, the portrait of his wife is a personal one. Thus, T. J. Clark argues that because of the presence of the huge hat in the portrait, the painting is much more personal than just what meets the eye. Critics during Matisse’s time, however, preferred to focus on the artistic and abstract qualities of Matisse’s painting.

I really love this painting because I think that Matisse uses color in such a creative, innovative, and artistic way. His painting is so original. Many critics do not think that it is sophisticated enough but I really think that in order to paint the human face using nothing but color and brushstrokes, one must master the practice of painting. Many don’t understand it, but I love the use of random and bright colors in the painting.

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