Matisse: In Search of True Painting at the Met

In 1906 Henri Matisse painted “Young Sailor I,” a roughly shaded, almost abstract interpretation of an eighteen-year-old fisherman in his neighborhood. The young man is shown sitting with his arm propping up his head, his features outlined in dark black lines, and the same green of his pants creeping up to his cheek indicating shadow. Matisse lived with this portrait he’d created for almost a year before it inspired a reinterpretation that became “Young Sailor II,” one of his most iconic works. It’s clearly the same man, his hands arranged identically and his posture only slightly improved, but his face is completely different, almost unrecognizable – his eyes elongated and spread apart and his cheek bones accentuated; all traces of green-shadowed abstraction gone. Now the sailor sits in front of a glowing pink background instead one shaded in rough random lines of orange, blue, and green. Although “Young Sailor II” is now the more well-known of the two, at first Matisse was so insecure about this reinterpretation that he originally told people it was painted by the postman.

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