There Cannot Be Reverie towards Nature or Aesthetic Sensitivity In General Without Humility

Henry Matisse, “Interior with Egyptian Curtain”, 1948
Henry Matisse, “Interior with Egyptian Curtain”, 1948

The composition of the painting consists of three parts. The first is nature outside the interior (seen by us through the window), which, like a benefactor, as if puts the fruits in front of us on the table. The second – these very fruits of nature for our human enjoyment. The composition emphasizes the subliminal nature of the connection between verdure outside the window and fruits inside the interior in order for us, it seems, to feel the spiritual aspect of this connection. The third part of the composition occupies the right third of the canvas, as if, mediating between nature and interior of human life – the colorful and bright curtain itself. It is the human culture, by which we, humans, try to embellish nature, to imitate it, a kind of artificial nature, it’s our “comment” about Creation. All the three elements of the composition not only reflect on human life with nature, but also refer to the human position towards nature – its visual perception, mystical feelings of unity with it, the awareness of the specificity of human civilization, gratitude for nature’s fruits, and the human efforts to respond to the beauty and generosity of nature by creating artifacts as a tribute to its beauty – the Egyptian curtain.

The triadic structure of human life as a specific part of Creation reflects the Christian perception of the world, created by God-father, morally sustained by Christ and stimulated by human creative inspiration with pantheistic overtones. Matisse as an artist emphasizes here specific secularly-spiritual “post-paganism” – the spiritual ability of the human beings for aesthetic co-creation. Humans have the capacity to appreciate the beauty of nature and express their gratitude by creating “artificial” beauty imitating and elaborating the irresistibility of earth as a human abode. Representation of human culture based on human talent for art, is modestly positioned by Matisse “on the side” of the world – nature and the human settling in it, as if, on the margin of the Creation.

The window-cross through which we can see the nature – through which we see the outside world, Matisse impregnates with the connotations of the cross of crucifixion, emphasizing that humans have a gift for spiritually creative perception of the world – the capacity for reverie of it from the position of humility without fear, which couldn’t be available to us without Christ’s overwhelming self-sacrifice.

By showing us behind the window (of our physical settlement in the world) the mad exuberance of nature sharing with us its fertility, Matisse makes the visual beauty of the world a part of a Christian sensitivity as an ingredient of human visual perception. We feel that beauty of nature is a spiritual value. Matisse’s “fixation” on visual beauty and our ability to be reverential towards it is a spiritual virtue.

The triadic composition of the painting structures gratitude for nature’s generosity and our ability to incarnate our desire to embellish/imitate nature by the very artificiality of human art as a hymn to the creation.

If that which we see in the window is a palm tree (as some Matisse specialists suggest), it is represented as though it’s seen from the sky. The view of the painter at nature is a view from the sky – the ability to see nature with “angelic” eyes. To learn reverential perception of the world is to develop the ability not to abuse nature by our appropriating greed and our indifference, to be astonished by the world, admire it, never to transform it into a tool and a slave and always be in a respectful collaboration with it.

But even if what we see in the window is just the exuberance of nature’s vitality, not necessarily a palm tree, it is seen right through the window cross – we see nature, as if, growing from the very center of window cross where spirituality juxtaposes with survival and where the sky becomes the very center of the earth. The window cross becomes the very point of our vision of nature, vision, as if, through the pain of our human condition.

The cross of our aesthetic perception of the world is a redemption of our alienation from nature. Matisse, as if, suggests here that human aesthetic mission is to sing glory to the world through art. Pay attention to the spur-like shape on the low part of the curtain, which signifies the brush of the painter.