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This work has gone through a few metamorphoses before Matisse decided he liked the squirm-inducing painting on view today.

First it was green, then it was blue, then Matisse decided that red was the best color for the job. He was working off of Ferdinand Holder’s idea to help non-art buffs understand art through “unsophisticated pictorial language." The goal was to make his art emotionally accessible with bright, gaudy colors and the flowing shapes instead of forcing his viewers to think about stuff.

Instead of igniting feelings like passion or excitement, though, the colors created the urge to turn and run to the nearest toilet. All Matisse wanted was to create excitement, but his vivid color display was too much for the 1908 art crowd.

Aside from the stomach churning vivid reds and blues, part of what disturbed viewers about Harmony in Red was the landscape in the background. Even today, nobody can figure out if it’s a window or a landscape painting. It feeds the anxious energy of the work, especially since it means we don’t know if the poor woman setting the table is trapped or if she has a pleasant view. Matisse was a private man who had a tendency to alienate others and keep his wife tucked away inside their house. It wouldn’t be too far fetched to say that the landscape might be the woman’s cry for the outdoors.

As hated as Harmony in Red was when it was exhibited at the Salon d’Automne, it was a part of the display that coined the term for the movement that Matisse was part of: the Fauvists.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room)

The Dessert: Harmony in Red is a painting by French artist Henri Matisse, from 1908. It is considered by some critics to be Matisse's masterpiece. This Fauvist painting follows the example set by Impressionism with the overall lack of a central focal point.

The painting was commissioned as "Harmony in Blue," but Matisse was dissatisfied with the result, and so he painted it over with his preferred red.

It is in the permanent collection of the Hermitage Museum.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room)