A Hedgehog — and a Goldfish

Henri Matisse, courtesy of the Chicago Art Institute

Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement. The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share.

Henri Matisse

There is great stillness here, rather than movement; and the woman’s expression is unfathomable, rather than passionate. Yes, the design, the management of space, is all.

And yet — is it? Would I agree with Matisse that there is no emotion? Perhaps I’m biased. I recently saw the French film The Hedgehog, based on the novel by Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I loved the book, and I loved the film, although they were two completely different experiences. But both touch on life and death, alienation and intimacy, frivolity and the life of the mind — and so much more. Both are slow, haunting, and moving. You either like that sort of film, or you don’t, and I do.

Why do I couple this quote with this image? Because a goldfish in a bowl is both a motif of the film and an important character (in its way!). In an important scene the recurring goldfish in its bowl is watched by a young girl, and in another scene, watched by an older woman,  who looks (to my eye, at least) amazingly like the woman in the painting. When I got home and googled Woman and Goldfish Bowl, there it was — exactly the scene from the film. For me, then, the painting is indelibly infused with the quietly intense emotion of those moments.

I don’t know for sure, of course, and never will. But I am convinced that someone involved in the making of the movie also had this image in mind. For Matisse, the design may have been all, but for us, viewers, we bring to it much much more.

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27 Responses to A Hedgehog — and a Goldfish

  1. gwensbullock says:

    Love the painting………and I remember in the book the quiet moment of her catching the sight of the petal as it fell from the flower and onto the table………..yes, I think she would look just like this.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Now I’m going to have to go back to the book!!!
      If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a whole nother thing — but also wonderful. Worth seeking it!
      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting.

      Like

  2. elizadavies says:

    Very interesting .. your thoughts on Matisse and expression generally.

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  3. Rebekah says:

    ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ is a book that I have yet to read. Guess that will be on top of my list now.

    I look at the woman’s facial expression here, and, to me, it looks like she’s either bored beyond comprehension OR she’s trying to figure out some evil revenge on someone. But hey…that’s just me.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      You made me laugh! and on this miserable chill rainy day, that’s something!
      Dunno whether to encourage you to read the book or see the movie. They are VERY VERY different in every way — while still being the same. If you can believe that —
      No spoilers allowed, so I won’t comment on your speculation about motives 😉

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      • Rebekah says:

        what I wanted to suggest she was thinking, but didn’t write, was something with three letters, beginning with w and ending with f. We’ll see about the book — if I’m not really into it after the first 100 pages, I’ll put it away.

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  4. Love your writing! less keen on the Matisse.

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  5. 2e0mca says:

    Ahh! Now I understand the ‘Matisse’ connection 😉

    The Hedgehog sounds like a very deep movie and probably one that I would struggle to watch all the way though. I guess the closest to this genre of film that I have watched and enjoyed was Closely Observed Trains. My wife has Amelie and I have tried watching that but it doesn’t really hold me. I tend to find action films more compelling but I really appreciate them more if they have periods of introspection – The Cruel Sea would be a good example.

    Your point about the director or cameraman having this piece of art in in their minds eye when planning the scene is well made. Many artists in various media learn from the work of others and put into practice what they have seen – One of my favourite artists of transport photography was Colin Gifford and I find myself trying to emulate some of his methods in my work. Even then, we do try to stamp our own style on the finished article.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Martin, I think you’re right, The Hedgehog is very likely not your movie. However, if your wife liked Amélie, she may well like The Hedgehog — An action movie it is NOT 😉

      Your first photo of the latest match really did strike me as exemplifying what Matisse was talking about in terms of design and space. Look at the final photo in your post: it is a frieze really. Beautifully spaced, the colors wonderful. Some of the movies I have liked best have been for the camera work — “painting” Vermeers, for instance, in the movie about him, I forget the name (The Pearl Necklace?). Ingmar Bergman’s cameraman’s work in many movies, and ditto in some of Woody Allen’s, have been pieces of art, one frame after another. I like the borrowing a lot — it adds richness.
      I no longer worry about too much imitating, though. Seems to me even if we try to subsume ourselves in another’s style, our own ends up piercing through!!!

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      • 2e0mca says:

        It certainly does – the works of the likes of Ingmar Bergman are well worth a watch 🙂 I love the work of the Dutch painters – those open landscapes with the tall trees have such a sense of peace. I will point my good lady to The Hedgehog and see what she makes of it 🙂

        I’m currently watching something altogether more unpleasant – Serenity. A masterpiece of science fiction but definitely not a film to feel comfortable with!

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  6. tms says:

    What if … the woman’s expression in the picture is just empty? A — I was going to insert a “mere” here, but that’s not accurate — projection surface for the emotions we want to see? And what if many of the great works of art were just that?
    Only speculating. To me, she looks sad about her boredom — or bored with sadness? But maybe that’s because I watched the movie.
    I liked it, by the way. So the book is still on my list.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      As usual — here you are with a thought-provoking comment!
      As soon as I read it, it *clicked* — that’s exactly what many great works of art are, backdrops upon which we project. But I hadn’t ever thought that before. Perhaps because, like for you, “empty” carries the valence of “mere”, so automatically that it isn’t even up for consideration. An unexamined assumption.
      Undoubtedly why Shakespeare has endured so long, in so many places, in so many transformations and disguises. Each place and age sees something new and different, and Shakespeare’s genius makes that possible.
      BTW, the book is very very different in significant ways from the movie. Side by side, they offer a clear demonstration of the difference between a movie and a book.

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  7. munchow says:

    I really enjoyed your idea of connecting the painting with the quote. Matisse was indeed very expressive. ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ is a great book, but I haven’t watched the film, but sounds like something to watch.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Otto, the book and the film are shockingly different in certain ways, and very similar in other ways.
      Almost a textbook demonstration of the difference between a book and a film. I’d be curious to know what you think after you see the film. (Watch out for the goldfish! 🙂
      Thanks so much for your visit and comment, much appreciated.

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  8. elizadavies says:

    Hi touch2touch I do not know what is netfix and how to access films at all … a bit of a peasant in this respect … 🙂

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Hi Eliza! You are in England, I realize, and I don’t know if you have Netflix there.
      It’s a service where, for about $8 a month, you can borrow DVD’s by mail and return them by mail, as many as you want to watch and as quickly as the mail/post will get them back and forth (usually very quickly!). We use it for films we’re interested in, which tend to be foreign (French, English, sometimes Japanese, etc.) and not readily available at the movie theaters or on television.
      Also some public libraries keep an interesting supply of DVD’s for loan. There used to be stores that rented DVD’s, but they are disappearing here.
      I don’t know what your possibilities are in England — but now that you know there may be some, perhaps you can ask around? Anybody out there who might help Eliza?
      Good luck — it’s a quest! 🙂
      Judith

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  9. pauline says:

    I recognize the look on that woman’s face. I wear it often myself when I’m spacing out, ie. thinking without really thinking about what I’m thinking about. It is a form of meditation, a way to calm the monkey-mind. She’s not really looking at the goldfish – she’s contemplating the inside of herself. Even if the fish aren’t still, she is. And in saying that, I am agreeing with tms that the face in the painting can be used as a projection surface for the viewer’s own emotions. I think we do that with all pictures, though. We bring ourselves to the viewing; how can we help it? Matisse has given us a host of repetitive designs and a symmetry of space and line that satisfy our pattern-seeking minds. It’s always up to us to supply the personal emotion.

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  10. Patti Kuche says:

    Imagery and interpretation . . . with great generosity Matisse invites us into the empty spaces whereby we feel the passion of our emotion. We become that woman, mysteries to our own selves as we remember our own youths in the process of aging. Has this woman committed herself to a marriage whereby she has become the goldfish, trapped in her life?
    As still as the painting is I find there is so much movement in the piece and so want to see the film and read the book!

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Patti. You would love the film, and would know very soon after starting the book if it is for you. They are very different animals — or goldfish????
      It occurs to me that the film is more a goldfish, and the book more a hedgehog — In any event, I’d be very curious what you think after seeing or reading one of them!
      Enjoy your weekend —

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  11. jakesprinter says:

    Great painting thanks for sharing

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