Modernist Against the Grain
By Catherine Bock-Weiss
(Penn State University Press, Hardcover, 9780271035123, 231pp.)
Publication Date: January 2010
What makes Henri Matisse a "modernist," when so much of his work harks back to older French traditions and the artist himself never seems entirely at home in the twentieth century? Bock-Weiss addresses the paradox of Matisse's status as a canonical modern artist, but one whose work and career cannot be mapped onto conventional histories of an insurrectionary modernism. She frames this issue by positioning the artist in surprising contexts: his manipulation of mass media in shaping his public image, his singular relationship with Gertrude Stein, and his painterly use of cinematic devices in the 1920s to respond to the crisis of cubism. Equally unprecedented is the author's close examination of two major critical responses to Matisse's work: a formalist defense by the Russian dance critic Andre Levinson, and the claim by Pierre Schneider and others that Matisse is a spiritual artist on the Byzantine/Islamic model. Providing neither a unified portrait of the artist nor a new definition of modernism itself, the author considers the many-faceted elements of the artist's life, work, and reputation to present a comprehensive new framework for viewing both Matisse and modernism.