Editorial: Determined Matisse still inspires us

By Mark Story

There's Manet, Monet, Modigliani and Matisse.

All loosely contemporaries, all masters with a paintbrush, all beautiful names - but none as lovely as the latter.

Photos of France's master modernist Henri Matisse (1869-1954), conservative and deeply working class, with a neatly trimmed beard, rounded glasses and intense stare, make him resemble more a scientist than artist.

At age 20, deeply disappointing his wealthy father, he dropped out of law school and embraced art, or, as he then called it "a kind of paradise".

As with most greats in the making he met with vehement criticism. "A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public", one critic said in 1905.

His controversial 1907 painting Nu bleu was burned in effigy at the Armory Show in Chicago in 1913.

This made providing for his family difficult. It didn't help that his passion for buying other paintings landed him deeply in debt.

Much of his best works were still lifes. Some of the most noted include Still Life with Geraniums and A Glimpse of Notre-Dame in the Late Afternoon.

If only he knew what price his popular contemporary reception now fetched: His 1948 painting The Plum Blossoms sold for $25 million in 2005.

But for all the many tiers of his legacy, one resonates here in Hawke's Bay louder than any other.

That said, I have absolutely no idea if 12-year-old Napier girl Matisse Reid was named after this great painter. I suspect she was.

But neither does it matter much.

If chosen it's a wonderful name, if fate it's a wonderful piece of synchronicity. Either way a masterstroke.

I thought of the revered artist immediately when first seeing her name in print many years ago. A name befitting this most courageous of our citizens.

Born with a rare disease and unable to eat, the youngster had to be fed through a tube. Six years ago she left her hometown of Napier for the US to undergo a stomach, duodenum, pancreas and bowel transplant in 2010.

Today, I imagine with an accent garnered from spending half her life in Pittsburgh, she returns home to Napier to live.

Through this paper we've watched her grow, watched her stumble, watched her endure and covered her first eaten meal at the age of 10. All the time we've watched with pride.

Here's someone who provides more perspective to our daily "grind" than any other and in doing so, shares something in common with the great artist, who once wrote: "There are always flowers for those who want to see them."

While he spent his entire life seeking inspiration, his young Napier namesake has spent her life gifting it to us.

Welcome home, Matisse.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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