Matisse and his “actors” of inspiration

Don’t you often wonder when you look at a beautifully designed room or a stunning piece of art, what the inspiration was behind the creation? “What inspires you?” has to be one of the most asked questions of any creative. The answers vary but often times it’s things like art, travel, nature or even other creatives. 

So it was great anticipation that I made my way to the Matisse exhibit at the Boston MFA just before I left on vacation. The paintings were curated around the objects that inspired Matisse. He referred to his favorite objects as “actors” and used them over and over again in his work. 

“The object is an actor. A good actor can have a part in ten different plays; an object can play a role in ten different pictures” Matisse

I have had a love affair with Matisse since high school. In fact, this framed poster below has hung in every apartment and house I have lived in since college. I have had it for close to 40 years and although it has little to no monetary value, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with it during the downsizing purge. 

Some of the more interesting “actors” used by Matisse were African figures and ethnic textiles.

 Matisse was intrigued with the simplicity of the sculpture and the fact that it was stripped down to just the visual essentials.

Preliminary sketch for portrait below.

Matisse also was inspired by textiles, especially those from Northern Africa and Islamic cultures. He loved the rich saturated colors and the patterns of the hand made cloth. This Egyptian cloth in the exhibit hung in his studio and was used over and over again in his work.

Here it is on the right side of the painting.

The exotic Islamic culture fascinated Matisse and became a favorite subject to paint.

This is a detail shot of another antique textile from his collection.

Matisse used it for his inspiration in the painting below.

One of the more interesting facts I learned at the show was that it was these Islamic textiles that became the inspiration for Matisse’s cut outs which he is so well know for.

He studied the play of light on the mirrored glass inserts and the “movement” it gave to the pattern.

African Kuba cloth which is so on trend today was also a favorite of Matisse.

He collected samples from many different tribes and was taken by the fact that the pattern seemed to have no beginning and no end. The painting below shows his Kuba cloth interpretation in the background. Notice how the pattern climbs out the window seemingly going on forever.

Later in his career Matisse became captivated by Chinese calligraphy and collected samples that he hung in his studio.

The fluid movement of the characters inspired this work called The Acrobat.

He also collected Chinese pottery

Which became inspiration for the tree painting below. 

I found the exhibit so fascinating because it was almost like being inside Matisse’s head. I could look at the object and then see how it inspired him to create his work. 

It also got me thinking about what inspires me. It’s probably cliche but for the most part it’s travel and nature. We were on vacation last week in the white mountains of New Hampshire. The vibrant greens of the forest against the beige/taupe colored rocks became inspiration for a color palette for a new space I am working on.

Here are a few images of what I was surrounded by last week.

White Mountains NH

Linda Holt Photo

Galehead trail NH mountains

Linda Holt Photo

river stream in White Mountains

Linda Holt Photo

This is my color palette inspired by the mountains.

My mountain inspired color palette: Linda Holt photo

Inspiration is different for everyone. I would love to hear what inspires you?

15 Responses to Matisse and his “actors” of inspiration
  1. Jil Sonia Interiors Reply

    I had no idea what inspired him, how wonderful to get inside his head! Thank you!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Jil. I was so impressed with the show.To see the actual objects that he was inspired by was really thrilling.

  2. Sandy Roth Reply

    Linda,
    Love YOUR White Mountain inspired color palette!!
    (and Matisse, too!!)

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thank you so much Sandy!

  3. Deborah Main Reply

    Great post Linda!! So interesting all the different inspirations you shared about Matisse. And your photos are gorgeous. I too am inspired by nature and I have to add fashion. It all helps fuel my love for textiles, color and texture. ❤

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Deborah. I actually though of you while at the show knowing how much you love old textiles.

  4. diane Reply

    I, too, have long been a fan of his and just recently enjoyed some pieces for sale in a gallery in Lahaina. What a treat to be up close and personal. Thank you for sharing this info…I hope this collections makes it’s way to my hometown.

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Diane. It was such a treat like you say, to get up close and personal. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  5. Claire Jefford Reply

    Great post and beautiful photos (as always) Linda. My friends’ sister paints and it looks like she is inspired by this type of art as her paintings look similar. I am usually inspired first by clients desires/getting inside their head to establish the look they want. Then fabrics or an area rug are usually my jumping off point for a project. Thanks for sharing! xx

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks for commenting Claire. I too usually find a fabric or rug as my jumping off point for a project. I usually look for fabric or carpet that will relate to the color palette the client has directed me to.

  6. Veronica D Reply

    Thank you for all the information! Very interesting and fun to see how they get inspired. And you too. I love your Mountain Color Palette.
    Can’t wait to see pics of your new place 😉

  7. Darlene Allen Reply

    I saw this exhibit a few weeks ago! Love, love, love African patterns. Oh did I say love!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Debra Reply

    You got me thinking, Linda… Thank you!

  9. Dorothy Reply

    This is so well written I plan to use it to teach my little girl! Matisse is one of my absolute favorites too. Georgia O’Keefe and he, as well as Picasso are ever present in my life.

    For me, the best, most inspiring and delightful part of this post came at the end of it! Wow! That color palette is fantastic! I’m familiar with those gorgeous vistas in New Hampshire. You capture them beautifully in your photos. I am speechless seeing your revelation of how you take it to the next level. You are so gifted Linda. Thank you for sharing the inner working of your artistic mind!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Dorothy. The Matisse exhibit was so very inspiring and the timing was perfect as I saw it the day before we left for the mountains.

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