'It’s a series of prompts, unlocking the viewer’s imagination'

The Casbah Gate, 1912–13, by Henri Matisse (1869–1954), 45½in by 31½in, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Lachlan Goudie says:
The Casbah Gate is a masterclass in simplification. Matisse distills the essence of his subject into an abstract pattern of geometric shapes and colour, yet this image completely evokes the allure of a street in the Casbah, blasted by the noonday sun. It’s a series of prompts, unlocking the viewer’s imagination; electric turquoise and blood crimson, clamouring together for your attention like the noise of street vendors in the souk. And there, materialising at the heart of all the visual clamour, is the promise of a rose garden, leading the viewer through the arch, along a burning-red path and into Matisse’s painted world.

Lachlan Goudie is an artist and broadcaster. He features in the new film Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, which will be released in the UK on April 12

John McEwen comments on The Casbah Gate:
In old age, Matisse wrote of making art: ‘You have to see the whole of life as you did when a child; and the loss of that potentiality robs you of the personality to express yourself in an original way— that is to say, personally.’

Matisse had not found it easy to be an artist, neither as a young man abandoning a law career against his father’s wishes nor when he was at odds with Cubism and the younger Picasso and his Cubist coterie refused him a cafe seat—a stinging snub. In 1908, he met the inspiring Russian patron Sergei Shchukin. Staying with him in Moscow, he was astonished by the visual riches of icons.

Then, typically of French painters since Delacroix (see ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, national Gallery’, until May 22), he visited Morocco, staying in Tangier. He and his wife survived a dismal start, but, after weeks of rain, sun provided a ‘melting light, quite different from the Cote d’Azur’ and bare earth was suddenly carpeted with flowers. He paid two extended visits. During the second, he painted this personal view of an old gateway to the Casbah, the original citadel.

Matisse avoided the numerous foreign artists in Tangier, but he did meet the Glasgow School painter Lavery. They disliked each other’s art. Matisse’s would not ‘wash in the long run’, the Scottish painter Guthrie reassured Lavery. A century later, Lachlan Goudie, whose TV series on Scottish art was distinguished by a practitioner’s insight, confirms Guthrie’s misjudgement. Lavery’s art has washed quite well, too, of course.