Woman With the Hat by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse
Woman With the Hat, 1905
Oil on Canvas 31’ x 23.5’
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Henri Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905, is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Woman with a Hat is a classic fauve extravaganza of wild color. It is oil on canvas; 31.75 by 35.5 inches. The first thing one notices about the painting is the color, it’s everywhere. The painting looks like a splattering of garish color. Green stands out instantly, as it dominates a good deal of the composition. The image of Madam Matisse almost becomes secondary to the color experience.

The lines are thick and yet undefined. There is a black contour line that runs from the left on her arm across her back and up past her ear and hair to her hat. On the first curve of the hat, a thicker blue line replaces the black line and continues across the hat’s outline, intermittently interrupted by regions of black. When the hat ends on the other side of her face, a rather thin black line forms again. This line is not so defined as a line per say, as it is a separation between the colors of her face and the green of the background. This small line continues around her face and helps to define her jaw line, her hair, and her ear. Below her face the line becomes more defined and increases in width and thickness as it sweeps down the edge of the fan. It is abruptly ended by a thick and conspicuous white line jetting diagonally downward at the end of the fan, which puts and end to the body. Beyond this line, there are no more definite lines to speak of; the colors themselves take over in the absence of line in the painting’s bottom right quadrant.

Matisse gives us his wife in an hourglass shape. Her body is hidden behind her fan; we see only her arm and torso. She appears wide at the bottom half of the portrait. Her shape causes the viewers’ eyes to wander up over the fan toward her neck, the narrowest, and also one of the brightest, parts of the painting. Her face is oval and contributes to the impression of a triangular upsweep toward the hat. The hat and the face together form a triangle. The fan below the face also makes a triangular shape.

The texture of the composition is rough, and brush strokes are clearly visible as one scans the painting. Matisse has applied the paint in varying layers of thickness and viscosity. The background’s texture is, for the most part, smooth; the strokes are visible but are not rough. The same is true for Madam’s hat, the contents of which are rendered with rather thick and hasty applications of paint, but the blending of these applications leads to a textured yet smooth appearance. The texture of her face is rather rough, due to the high number of colors and paint splotches. The orange line that forms her neck is also quite rough. It is the fan that Matisse has given the greatest representational texture, and it appears to be the roughest object in the whole composition. Its lace is rendered in long wide diagonal strokes of thick white and blue paint. The fan’s floral pattern is a jumble of heavy smudges and rapid strokes, perhaps applied with a palate knife.

The space of the painting is very shallow. Madam’s body takes up nearly the entire nearly foreground, and there is nothing to impede the viewers’ access to her. This lack of any perceivable special depth, as well as the total obliteration of any background details has the effect of bringing her outstandingly close to the viewer.

Her motion appears to be paused. Time is not frozen per say, so much as she appears to be captured between motions. What we are seeing is a temporary break in motion. While her face is clearly pointed at the viewer, it is the fan that opens up the figure, turns her, and helps her face the viewer. Either she is facing us, or she is looking back from a shoulders and torso turn, or she is turning away and looking over her