Art Appreciation and “The Music Lesson” by Henri Matisse

Ghenady Meirson
Submitted: Thu, March 22, 2018 - 6:44am EDT
“The Music Lesson” by Henri Matisse, The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia

Recently, I spent an afternoon with art at The Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. It is a private collection of impressionist and modern art, and mostly works by Renoir and Cézanne.

It is wonderful that museums today allow visitors to take digital photographs of art works. With modern technology it is hard to keep people from taking pictures. On the other hand, it is a brilliant promotional vehicle for art organization, which creates more opportunity to attract audiences.

I admit that I don’t know nuances associated with painting techniques, but it is by choice. As a professional musician, I practice my art daily and at times I find that either too much knowledge or overthinking interferes with how I appreciate a certain musical composition or an interpretation. When it comes to museums, I prefer the art to speak to me in a simple and direct way.

On my visit to the Barnes, I saw hundreds of works, each competing for my attention in a short span of time. As I mentioned above, works by Renoir and Cezanne dominate the collection, but there are also works by Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani and many other.

Here I came upon a painting entitled The Music Lesson by Henri Matisse. It spoke to me instantly in a way that touched on my life’s experiences.

First, on a music stand, I noticed and deciphered the word Pleyel. That triggered a memory of when I once played a concert on a Pleyel piano in a castle on French Riviera. Then I stepped back and explored a very familiar and peaceful scene of a piano lesson in progress. I imagined myself in the various roles depicted in the scene – as a student taking a piano lesson, as a piano teacher giving a lesson, and as a parent waiting for the lesson to finish. The composition and color left a special impression on me. Later I learned that the painting depicted Matisse’s own family.

In my own music studio, I have music-themed posters of art. When I look at Chagall’s The Blue Violinist, I try to imagine a Klezmer fiddler during a happier moment in a Russian village. With Kandinsky’s abstract work, Quiet Harmony, I find myself moved by some shapes, but mostly by how the color affects me.

On the visit to The Barnes Collection, I found myself saying aloud, “the composition is everything,” and the interpretation and appreciation is a very personal experience.

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