Matisse’s Scale: What’s with the Bamboo Stick?

Matisse’s Scale: What’s with the Bamboo Stick? - Yve-Alain Bois

Yve-Alain Bois
Institute for Advanced Study
May 5, 2017
Matisse’s Scale: What’s with the Bamboo Stick?
In this public lecture, Bois will focus on Matisse’s use of the bamboo stick in large-scale works and the bodily conception of scale it entails.
In a photograph dating from 1931, Matisse is shown sketching The Dance—a gigantic mural commissioned by Albert Barnes for his Foundation—with his charcoal at the end of a six-foot bamboo stick. This unusual practice stems from the artist’s discovery that squaring up a small sketch, as has been the standard procedure for large paintings and murals, was incompatible with his aesthetic. The bamboo stick resurfaces in Matisse’s studio at the end of the 1940s when he is working on his Vence Chapel, his old age further emphasizing the acrobatic nature of the feat and the amazing control the artist had of his drawing tool (and his wrist). But while Matisse’s use of the cane is consistent with the artist’s creed with regard to two of the chapel’s murals—Saint Dominic and the Virgin and Child—it seems absurd when he dealt with the third mural, the Stations of the Cross, for which each of the fourteen stations were first sketched on individual pieces of paper at their final scale.