Matisse in Petersburg

After a long day at the Hermitage, intoxicated by its profusion of treasures, and exhausted by the endless procession of gilded and mirrored chambers, which now and then catch the dazzling white light of the frozen city outside the palace windows, I found this painting..
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.. and it feels like the end of a long journey, a place of luminous warmth and welcome simplicity. It is an empty room that pulses with a deep and silent charge in which two figures, one standing and one sitting, turn to gaze at each other across an open window. A moment of life - theirs and yours - stilled and contained in a saturated field of the bluest of blue paint(which for Matisse was the colour of dreams). The ‘conversation’ of the title is not made of words but of what comes between them: a silent communion or, maybe, a poignant isolation. A moment of stasis in which their impenetrable gaze seems both to invite and exclude your own. You look deeply one last time, caught up in this wordless moment, and yearn to break through into the limpid green air beyond. It is a painting that continues to reverberate elsewhere, an image that recurs for example in extended film frames which have consciously or otherwise drawn on its formal clarity and silent suspense; you can see just such a scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and another also in the recently released Still Life(2007)


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