Matisse Exhibit Met: What Instagram Learned From Matisse

As you stroll from room to room within the Henri Matisse exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, you may be struck by more than just the vivid colors and whimsical brushstrokes. Looking from one canvas to the next, you’ll notice something else entirely: A lot of the paintings are the same. Well, not the same exactly, but similar. 

Matisse: In Search of True Painting, running until Mar. 17 at the Met, highlights the French artist’s tendency to paint the same scene over and over again, applying different effects to each composition in order to experiment with light, color and overall mood. In many cases, he even hired photographers to document the progress of a painting, using the images to assess changes and make further tweaks (and effectively leaving us with a cool series of pics). To me, the end result is like an analog version of Instagram: Same underlying picture, different overlaid effects.


As a member of the elite group of European painters credited with revolutionizing post-Impressionist art, Matisse (1869-1954) felt that this methodical reiteration helped him “push further and deeper into true painting.” For him, this meant stripping down the image to matte, two-dimensional shapes and solid areas of color; or, as he put it, “condens[ing] the meaning of [a] body by seeking its essential lines.”

To me, it’s a fascination with visual filters not unlike the current frenzy over the popular photo-sharing site. Before digital reproductions were available — before computers even existed — Matisse was not only creating his own facsimiles, he was applying the original Amaro, Rise, and Hudson. Given his body of work, one might even say he was the world’s first hipster. After all, have you seen his mustache?

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Agatha Gilmore

Writer, editor, dreamer, New Yorker.

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