Great Minds Think Alike – by Esther David

They say; ‘great minds think alike.’ Recently, this became obvious, while I was reading a comparative study about famed artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso’s paintings and sculptures, which were created in 1906.

Matisse and Picasso had many common elements. Both artists were like opposites in every possible way, yet, they bonded with their artistic sensibilities, which was a mixture of friendship and competition. According to their patrons Leo and Gertrude Stein, together they blazed a trail leading towards modern art, while breaking down boundaries between sculpture, painting, drawings, graphic arts and leading, the arts towards total artistic freedom.

Their work shows many common themes which run in parallels. Both artists are known to have been deeply involved with cubism and fauvism. Their styles and colours come through in their work with tremendous variations, connected somewhere or other with a surprising common link. There may be some differences here and there, yet the strain is the same in colour application and the use of volume in their forms. For example, if one sees Picasso’s fascination for the guitar, Matisse painted the violin. If Matisse was photographed with a dove on his shoulder, Picasso had an owl perched on his arm. Matisse can be identified by bright pinks, while Picasso is known for his blues. The human figure is a common thread between their works, as it can be seen as a tree or a cathedral. The sitting woman with hands raised and the reclining figure or the Odalisque appears repeatedly in the works of both artists. Often, the human figures moves with a certain serpentine grace, even if a slight difference is seen in Picasso’s human figures, as he was impressed by African masks. Picasso painted the human face like a mask or slashed the human figure with brutal angular brush strokes. But, in Matisse’s work, there was more detail and loving colour application, yet the portrait as a cube, appears with variations in the works of both artists.

When one looks at the paintings of Matisse, we tend to focus on his bright colours and floral-Persian-carpet backgrounds.

Fauvism was a word coined by an art critic for Matisse, who attacked the artist, saying that the bright colours used by him and other artists were wild, meaning ‘fauve’ in French.

Today there are no such reservations in the arts, thanks to Matisse and Picasso, as the wilder the better.

In the same context, the cube as a geometric volume appears often in the sculptures of Matisse.

In the history of sculpture, his work is of great importance, as Matisse stands apart with his sculpture of a woman’s back, which resembles a tree trunk. Together, when one views the sculptures of Matisse and Picasso, surprisingly, one cannot tell Matisse apart. He sculpts his heads by cutting them into leaf like cubes; an extraordinary exercise in cubism, the difference between the two appears to be subtle, because Picasso’s heads have a heavier organic quality.  But, both artists use the human figure like a cut-out, almost like a strong silhouette emerging from a wall. The sculpted limbs, stretch, move, turn inwards, reach the sky, dance or turn somersaults.

While, the dancers painted by Matisse move in entwined circles, while Picasso’s dancers have an edgy upwards movement. Even in matters of materials, Matisse preferred collages and Picasso painted or twisted paper or metal sheets  into dancers, creating his famous Minotaur’s’ or half human-half animal forms.

Both artists explored various themes with the utmost simplicity, like the reclining figure, the standing figure, bathers on a seashore or melancholic dreamers.

They look like forms, as seen from a distance, composed within interiors with floral background, which have paintings, collages, sculptures; all created with a brilliant use fauvism and cubism. 

To study these great artists was an exciting journey into the language of the human figure, as revealed by Matisse and Picasso, because; ‘great minds think alike.’

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