Andre Masson’s Tauromachie
The subject matter of Tauromachie (1937), oil painting on canvas 3’x4’, is dominated by a bull and horse in a wild fight with two bullfighters. The brown head of the bull and the blue head of the horse bulge with wild bloodshot eyes. One bullfighter is at the bottom being trampled by the bull. The other bullfighter is being tossed overhead like a ragdoll. The figures are drawn with a detailed realism yet are in a conceptual scene that’s riotous and imagined. The bullfighters suffer green undertones in their flesh, perhaps foreshadowing their death. Overall, the dominant design element is the red of the bullfighter cape in the background and its recurrent folds and ripples. The brilliant red of the matador’s cloth strikes the viewer in a shocking feeling of death, destruction, and the riot of this brutal fight. In one top corner, the cape is lowered to display a naked skull with a matador’s hat perched on top, showing that the death of these hapless bullfighters is imminent.
Matisse’s Striped Robe, Fruit, and Anemones
In Striped Robe, Fruit, and Anemones (1940) [an oil painting on canvas 2 1/2’x 3’] a woman sits at a table. Her facial features and hands are only briefly sketched in by black outlines. Her overriding feature is the bold blue, red, and purple stripes of her dress; the bright stripes keep her from disappearing into the green-blue background. She is seated in front of plants and small trees displayed as turmoiled splotches in a riotous jungle of greens and blues only vaguely drawn in whith white outlines scratched into the canvas. The woman is seated at a table littered with orange, yellow, and green fruits vaguely suggested by their shapes rather than by modeling or by dark shadows. The table includes vases of cut daisies and anemones mainly suggested by their white, blue, and purple shapes. The tablecloth is a plane of simple clean pinkish-red that makes the table stand out in its shocking brilliance. In an otherwise chaotic riot of irregular shapes and bright bursts of color, the red tablecloth solidifies the main element of the design and provides a base for the subject matter.
Felix Vallotton’s The Lie
In The Lie (1897), a much smaller oil painting 10”x18”, red is the most striking feature, even if the viewer gazes at it from afar. Because the small painting is composed of large flat fields of reds and oranges, the piece should have a composed feeling of stillness. However, because of the bold striking reds, the painting portrays a feeling of shock. A man and woman embrace in a stolen moment of passion. The man looks positively predatory in his grasp of the woman. His hands grab in a crab-like or clawing gesture. His legs are wrapped around her lower body. The woman doesn’t even show her face. The name of the work – The Lie – and its inclusion in the series known as “Intimites” (known as “violent interiors) – show its subject matter. The theme of this painting is marital betrayal and the bold shades of red portray the seriousness of this subject matter. The man is portrayed through the black shape of his suit; the woman by the stark red-orange of her dress. Yellow and gold stripes define the wall behind them. Their setting is suggested by the simplest of drawing details: the man’s facial features, the legs of the table, the flowers in a vase. The overall bold design element is the flat continuing shades of red: the burgundy of the chairs, the orange of the table and the woman’s dress, the cranberry of the carpet. The pleasing cut-out design, the realistic details, and the use of red to set the mood all draw in the view and grab the attention.
In all three works of art, red is the dominant feature and provides intrigue. All three artists used realism to loosely display their subjects, but didn’t feel the need to use realism to a photographic degree.