To Current Issue

By Sofie Schwallie

  1. Reflective
    By Jack Rarer

          Goldfish is an oil on canvas painted by Henri Matisse in 1912.  This still-life is 147 x 98 cm. Currently, this work resides in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, Russia, but was painted in Issy-les-Moulineau, France, where Matisse moved to escape the hectic Parisian lifestyle.
          To truly understand Goldfish, it is important to understand Matisse’s background and the meaning of goldfish in European culture by examining history books and biographies of Matisse.  Throughout the early 20th century, Matisse pursued the subject of goldfish with works such as Goldfish and Palette and Interior with a Goldfish Bowl due to his obsession with the goldfish sold at his father’s store during his youth.  His fascination was furthered by his first trip to Morocco (1906) where his attention was caught by the goldfish bowls that Moroccan carpet dealers used as “objects of contemplation” (Blum 54).
This work was painted as part of a series from the spring and summer from that year, which revolved around Morocco and its sights.  By depicting his experience through art, Matisse not only emphasizes the impact that Morocco had on his development as an artist but indicates what he found fascinating about Moroccan life, especially after living in chaotic Paris.  Most of the paintings from this series are painted in pastels in contrast to his usual bold and bright colors, which convey a sense of calmness, not dissimilar to the way Europeans saw the Moroccan way of life.
         Goldfish were first introduced to Europe from Asia in the 1600s, and gained popularity quickly afterward.  During the early 20th century, goldfish also served as a popular subject for artists who were interested in Orientalism.  This movement took place during the European colonization of Africa and was meant to depict Arab cultures in a way that contrasted heavily with the European way of life.  It depicted Arab life as “exotic” and “mysterious,” which, in contrast to the fast-paced European lifestyle, showed the Moroccans as more relaxed and living a much slower-paced life.  In concurrence with this movement, Matisse depicted such a calm mood in The Arab Café (1913).
This was painted during the Fauvist movement.  This movement was aimed at emphasizing colors as a unique entity of the painting and at creating balance within the work.  Matisse presents these elements in Goldfish by emphasizing the color of the fish and the surrounding plants but balancing their bright color with relatively muted colors in the background.
           Like many of Matisse’s works, what really stands out about Goldfish is the colors.  Matisse uses contrasting red, green, pink, black, and yellow.  This emphasizes different objects throughout the painting, causing movement of the viewer’s eyes from one object to another.  The focal point of the work is the three fish depicted in the center of the painting. They are captured mid-motion, swimming about a cylindrical vase in the middle of a heavily planted room.  The reflection of the fish through the top of the vase depicts them as just strokes of color, presenting the influence of the Fauvist movement in this piece. The eye is next directed towards the abundance of plants surrounding the vase.  The plants surrounding the vase on the top are painted in a pattern, arranged in an almost decorative style, and contrast with the bright fish with their pastel appearance. The combination and balance of the shapes and colors of the plants and fish create a sense of wholeness in the painting.
           Goldfish has taught me that true understanding of a work of art comes from understanding the history behind it.  The appearance of Goldfish and the ways that Matisse uses colors and shapes within the work only scratch the surface when it comes to in-depth analysis of the piece.  Analyzing concurrent art movements and their significance presented the piece in a new light and allowed me to understand why Matisse painted this specific subject matter and why he used specific techniques when doing so.  This piece also left me with a new understanding of how his trips to Morocco both reflected his previous beliefs and temporarily changed aspects of his style. Overall, a more in-depth analysis of Goldfish left me in awe of it in a way I wasn’t before. 

Works Cited
Blum, Shirley Neilsen. Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View. Thames & Hudson, 2010.
      “Fauvism Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story, The Art Story,                                           
Kimmelman, Michael. “ART VIEW; How the Spirit Of Morocco Seized Matisse.” The New York Times
       The New York Times, 18 Mar. 1990,              morocco-seized-matisse.html.
Korchina, Natalia. “Goldfish by Henri Matisse - History, Analysis & Facts.” Arthive, Arthive,                        
“Matisse, Goldfish.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy,                         history/later-europe-and-americas/modernity-ap/a/matisse-goldfish.
“The Goldfish, 1912 by Henri Matisse.” Henri Matisse,, 2011,                                     
“What Is Orientalism?” Arab American National Museum, Reclaiming Our Identity: Dismantling Arab               Stereotypes,