Henri Matisse - A Biography - Spurling (2 volumes)

This is a great book that establishes foremost, the chronology of Matisse’s artistic development.  This allows an accurate assessment of his relationship to the key developments in the Paris avante-garde.  With information in this careful chronology one can clearly see that it is Matisse rather than Picasso who is the progenitor of twentieth century painting, that the starting point is not Picasso’s”Le Demoiselles d’ Avignon”  but any number of works by Matisse completed in the decade prior to Picasso’s emergence as a Cubist.  Matisse was far more than a maker of pretty pictures.  His inventions with scale, composition, color, drawing, subject drew the attention (fury) of the art establishment and cleared a path for young Picasso.  Matisse was clearly Picasso’s key precursor in Bloomian terms (see The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom - a book you cannot not read along with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn)  as Matisse had been digesting the particulars of Late Cezanne and casting them into a visual language that formed the foundation for all that has followed.  Think of the late work of Cezanne as the U.S. Constitution and the work of Matisse between 1900 and 1910 as the five foundational cases of the Marshall court (Chief justice from 1801-1835) that interpret the great document in practical ways for everyday commerce.  Matisse was Chief  Justice and Picasso was a brethren.  Matisse taught us the meaning of Cezanne not in terms of the corporal content of these towering, soulful communions with god but in how these revolutionary ideas of Cezanne might be expressed in original swerves.  Once Picasso saw Matisse’s swerves he knew he could also swerve. Not only away from Matisse but away from Cezanne himself.  Matisse taught Picasso how to look at Cezanne, how one could look.  Matisse was sickly throughout his adult life for unspecific reasons.  I’ll specify - he was breathing toxic petroleum distillates, paint thinner, turpentine, oil paint mediums all day, every day in claustrophobic garrets during his early years and in larger apartments and studios later.  He was slowly poisoning himself as all artists in oil paints do.  I had to stop working in oils twenty years ago due to health issues related to the fumes.  Just as old people don’t fall and break their bones - they break their bones and then fall, breaking still more bones.  Artists aren’t usually initially crazy or crazy and sick - they spend years breathing this oil-based poison then go off their rockers - see Van Gogh who chewed the toxic paint (mercury, Cadmium, cobalt) off of his brushes to soften them each morning.  Matisse grew up in a village in northeastern France near Belgium that manufactured cloth for Parisian couture fashion.  There were several small factories that competed with each other to develop the latest, most colorful and dynamic patterns for their cloth.  Matisse grew up surrounded by man-made gorgeous colors and fabric textures.  Color was in his blood.