Henri Matisse came to Baltimore on December 17, 1930. He was visiting his good friend Etta Cone for the first time since Etta and her sister Claribel had begun collecting his art many years earlier (He called them “my two Baltimore ladies”). By then, Claribel had passed away, but Etta was still acquiring art and antiques and living among them in her large two-suite apartment on Eutaw Street. She was delighted to host the great artist, for the first, and what would also be the last time.
I am acquainted with the profound impact of Matisse’s art because of the Cone sisters and their collection, which they left to the Baltimore Museum of Art (there were over 500 pieces by Matisse bequeathed).
Matisse, as we know, is all about color and light and not at all about how things really look, but how they make us feel. And I always think about Matisse as also being about doors and windows and rooms—moving between inner and outer worlds (thresholds) and finding beauty in the everyday. Above all, his work is concerned with the domestic. In my mind, there is joy and affirmation in Matisse—though that does not always mean simplicity; his compositions are often quite complex.
The Open Window (1905) is a painting that I know only from one of my art books where it has been bookmarked for years…waiting for what, I did not know until it inspired this floral arrangement. I love the flung open French window and the potted plants on the windowsill and the vines trailing up the sides and the dreamy sailboats beyond. I love the transom window framed in black that sets everything off. And most of all, how the exterior becomes part of the interior.
I can only imagine what Matisse thought of Baltimore and of Etta and Claribel’s apartment swarming with art, but I like to think that he was a little bit enchanted and that he took a tiny part of it all back to Nice with him.
(There is an upcoming exhibition at The Museum of Fine Art in Boston that features Matisse’s work alongside the household items that he loved and frequently incorporated into his art http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/matisse-in-the-studio )