Those who look at Henri Matisse’s painting “Dance” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York would probably ask, “Is this a study?” They just can’t believe that the four-meter-wide painting is a study. The depiction of women dancing around with hand in hand remind Koreans of their traditional “ganggangsullae” dance. But why did Matisse paint such a big painting as just a study?
In 1909, Russian collector Sergei Shchukin commissioned Matisse to paint two paintings under the theme of dance and music in order to decorate a wall in his mansion in Moscow. Matisse went to dance floors on Montmartre to observe dancers performing dances. As soon as he returned home, the French artist painted the dancers on a large canvas, humming the music he had heard at the dance party. He completely ignored perspectives, depicting the dancers light and flat as if they were floating in the air. It was unconventional to refuse detailed expressions and use only three essential colors.
To Matisse, it was important only to express the joy and energies of life coming from dance. Factual description of the persons was not in his consideration. The huge canvas painting was completed in less than a week – something that would be physically impossible to achieve if the painter had not indulged himself into the work. Although it was just a study, Matisse liked the painting so much that he gave it the title “Dance 1.” The client received “Dance 2,” in which the female dancers’ skin tone is painted in strong orange, with its background color clearer and thicker than on Dance 1. In fact, dancing women keep appearing on other paintings by Matisse. It was the common aspect of paradise imagined by Westerners that naked people having a good time in a forest or a garden.
Dance, Matisse once said, evoked “life and rhythm.” Dance needs music. Hearing music, we feel like dancing. A peaceful and cheerful world in which everyone can dance with hand in hand – wasn’t it possibly the paradise Matisse wanted to show through “Dance?”