The Dance/ La Danse, 1909-1910, and The Music/La Musique, 1910
The Dance and the Music are among Matisse's most recognizable works and present a joyous depiction of people hedonistically enjoying themselves by dancing, playing and listening to music and being totally immersed into creativity. Both paintings were commissioned by Russian businessman and art collector Sergei Shchukin , who placed them on the staircase walls of his Moscow mansion, where they hung until the October Revolution of 1917. They are impressively large: La Danse is 260 cm × 391 cm (102.4 in × 153.9 in) and La Musique is 260 cm × 389 cm (100 in × 153 in), and a peculiarity of La Musique is that Matisse used paint at once, without making any preliminary sketches.
These paintings are marvelous examples of Fauvism with its typical palette of blue, green and red, and fluid softness of shapes. The unique composition of the dancing people in La Danse made this work the key milestone in the artist’s career. Now the two masterpieces belong to the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908
The Dessert: Harmony in Red, also known as Red Room, is another stunning example of Fauvist style, where the shades of vibrant red dominate the composition. The use of such a bright color as the main is intentional, as Matisse wanted to create harmony between the objects on the table set for dessert, which would have only simple essential shapes and the interior of the room. A surprising fact is that the painting was supposed to be titled "Harmony in Blue," but Matisse was completely dissatisfied with the blue version, and thus he painted it over with his favorite red.
The choice of this radical color was the reason why Sergei Shchukin, the customer who ordered the painting, rejected it. Nevertheless, the sophisticated composition and offbeat fauvist combination of colors could not leave art lovers indifferent and also influenced later modern artists who worked in the styles of Cubism and Futurism.
The Red Studio/ L'Atelier Rouge 1911
The Red Studio is one of Matisse's most celebrated works thanks to its unusual technique to use only one rich color for the whole composition. The painting invites us to the artist’s atelier, which he had designed and built by himself in 1909. The studio looks cluttered being filled with various objects, all rendered in a striking rusty red color.
However, the daring innovation here is not the main bright color itself but the fact that originally the canvas was entirely covered with pale yellow paint. Then the artist shallowly applied rusty red over the first layer and left thin strips of yellow to serve as lines. The manner of creating L'Atelier Rouge is a point-blank departure from traditional art to the avant-garde movement.
The principle of one color field was the main one in the works of such renowned modern artists as Mark Rothko and Kenneth Noland. At present, L'Atelier Rouge is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.