Soul Of The Interior As Interior Of Human Soul

Henri Matisse, “Interior with Violin” (1918)

In comparison with other Matisse’s paintings of the interiors (he made more than many) his “Interior with Violin” unexpectedly has a “cargo” quality. The interior looks as a corner of the interior where chaos is intermixed casually with neglect and disorder of cluttered colors and forms. It’s not that the room can be abandoned, but it rather looks neglected because the painter, as if, transformed it into a trajectory of looking, into something like a dressing room for a casual gaze. But on the other side, this section of an interior looking not “warmed” by the human presence, is elevated by the artist into a place for the violin case, and this, may be, because a violin is capable of expressing tribulations of the human soul.

The violin has already awakened – already put aside its densely blew blanket to meet the advancing sea. Soon the violin will make the other half of the shudders opened, the room will be transformed and will look closer to Matisse’s other interiors. The sound of violin: human contemplation in music – a vital suffering of the human soul feeling pain because its sensitivity is pressed by the very existence of the world, will awaken the semi-room of Matisse’s “Interior with Violin” into a full-fledged interior where the world is coming to itself – to the exuberance of its essence.

Sea, sky and light will enter the interior and will be tamed by the violin’s song. The areas of darkness in the room will not completely disappear but will join in the company of the joyful noise of nature with notes of quiet concentration and elegiac analysis of the spirit of life. The violin will become a violinist and will give its hand and voice to the beach, the ebb and clouds as a guarantee of human presence in the world.

Henri Matisse, “La Lecon de piano, Henriette et ses freres”, 1923

The interior in “La Lecon de piano…” is full of harmonious light, and the piano is reciting poems. This interior is very different from the one in the previous Matisse’s painting which wasn’t ready to correspond to the external world as its full blown opposite because it wasn’t “turned on”, like emotionally unawaken human soul in front of the still shuttered out life outside. In “Piano Lesson/La lecon de piano” the interior is in full power of life to be the interior of the outside world – its soul, its organ of contemplation.

If this interior could be more realistic than it is – it would be an extension-with modification of the external world, not its opposition inside collaboration. Then, like comfortable and “overfilled with design” interiors of prosperous private houses today, it would be places of continuation or a variant of entrepreneurial spirit or temporary relaxation intended to prepare humans for the next round of social activities. The design and the psychological atmosphere of Matisse’s interiors and especially in “La Lecon de piano” is so stylized and expressively static and transcends the reality of everyday living, that the viewers have reasons to feel that they have a deal here with a decisive alternative to the norms of real life, which at the same time is somehow congruent with it. It’s like typical interiors, but, as if, two-dimensional, oriented on something else and more beautiful (but not in applied sense – ready to be consumed, but in absolute sense – let’s say, like a human soul in comparison with socio-morphic actions, like human autonomy to human heteronomy or human freedom in relation to necessities of life.

The faces of all three personages are intentionally generalized – the facial expressions are muffled – there are no traces of emotions on the faces. The emotional ties between the personages aren’t emphasized. One of the brothers stands close to Henriette and is interested in her piano work and, perhaps, in her, while the second brother is a bit demonstratively isolating himself from the “couple”: he, may be, sulking at their closeness and, as if, encircling himself with the symbolic aura of his chair and book (with the cover which is by its color and form reminds us a popular universal representation of the heart). The positions of the characters refer to the innocent incestuous triangle. Brothers’ identical shirt-robes with white-black stripes are visual echoes of the piano keyboard – and this emphasizes that relationships between the brothers and sister and between the brothers are not just intra-family ones but emotionally influenced by the presence of art. Composition of the painting is very static – there are no currents of vitality flowing between the characters. Matisse’s personages are not people, but internal objects. In his interiors there is a spirit of internal expressiveness, without exteriorization, projection or appeal. By contrast, the realistic interiors are full of self-advertising designs. They refer not to an alternative to external life, extrovert orientation and recommended sociability. That’s why the interiors of numerous epigones of Matisse look so pompous and self-asserting, imposing and pride-irradiating – the furniture, as if, invites the viewers to try it, and the painted humans look like potential buyers. Matisse’s interiors, on the other hand are goals in itself. All the difference between art and mass art and between culture and mass culture is here!

Henriette and both her brothers are not realistic characters – they’re internal, psychological objects – figures imagined by the artist and represented as free from being consumed by the viewers through identification. To consume the personages of art means to transform it into a part of consumer’s personality – it’s a totalitarian psychological operation. This operation by which mass-cultural art survives on money paid by the consumers in exchange for the pleasure of appropriating/consuming the personage-model, whom they swallow, digest and assimilate into themselves is the basic mechanism of antidemocratic psychology.

Matisse’s “Interior with Violin” and “Henriette and her brothers” is like pure otherness inside today’s world. It’s like spiritual emanation. Our choice when we are in front of Matisse’s interior is not to appropriate its content and form, but to keep it free from colonization through perception, to keep its internal world not consumed – to be in communication with it as with a spiritual substance which is free from us as we are from it, free, and for this reason respected by ourselves and, may be, loved by Matisse’s models. Epigones of serious artist is much more perverted than the thieves of his works of art.