Mood and Feeling

The emotional climate of a painting, its innate joy or its sadness, tends to awaken a similar mood in the viewer. This sympathetic resonance establishes one of the strongest links that can tie a work of art to the spectator looking at it. This charm cannot be analyzed but is so strong that it brands itself in the memory since a deeply moving experience cannot be forgotten.

Emotions deeply felt by an artist have a particular poignancy that reverberates in the soul of the viewer with a similar vibrancy. This is so especially when the artist displays the individual nature of his private universe, and even when there is a measure of self-restraint and discretion in the revelation of his feelings as with Vermeer or Gustave Caillebotte. Sensibility emanates from the painting like a transparent mist. At times its evenly glazed surface augments its beguiling effect as if seen from behind a glass, at times the abundance of intertwined brush strokes and the thickness of the impasto throbs in front of the eye like a spark discharge.

Mood is unaccountable – it surges along with style but goes far beyond. Moreover, contrary to public belief, the sensibility of the artist in any given picture is quite distinct from his feelings as a human being during the same period. A good example of this difference can be found in the series of oils that Henri Matisse made in Tangiers in 1912. When I talked to him about the sensuous serenity that exuded from these works, he answered that at that very time in his life, being absolutely broke, he contemplated suicide but his aesthetic belief being entirely aimed toward the expression of joy, he had to adhere to doing just that, even if he had to kill himself soon afterward.

In my work, a strong emotion is always the impulse that prods me along and the touchstone to judge if my aim was true in its realization. I wonder if in the trajectory of this quest I have been able to create a particular mood an communicate it to the public.

The winter of 1944 was so cold in Paris in February and March that everywhere dead sparrows looked like dark leaves on the snow. The tiny frozen victims were emblematic of the drama of the world at war. Since embracing the whole tragedy was too vast an endeavor, I thought that I could at least show its effect on one small bird, now a lifeless heap of feathers. After many sketches, I started on canvas and replaced the snow by red and blue surroundings as if it had died on a battlefield.

In 1945, I showed compassion (on canvas) for a child trying to do his homework next to the vacillating light of a kerosene lamp in the usual freezing cold of his home, since there was no more wood or coal to burn and there was also a scarcity of gas and electricity with frequent interruptions of current.

The White Shadow (1954) is a large nude of a woman asleep. Her pale form lies on gray silk cushions and is presented in retrospect, as a nostalgic figure of the past. The Green Chair (1958) is also full of melancholy. At night, an empty chair that had belonged to my grandmother and a few anemones are the only respite in front of the dark glass panels of a closed window. The sadness is also a prevalent feature of many of my landscapes from England. To the Light House (1960) and the Lighthouse at Beachy Head (1960) (illustrated on home page) were painted in the memory of Virginia Woolf.

During the 1960’s, all of my energies focused on the Greek seashore and its mythical tradition. In the 1970’s, I spent a good part of the time in California, and the surroundings inspired me to paint a series of naturally beautiful landscapes. Later in 1978, many childhood memories came back to me and I decided to start a group of autobiographical abstract canvases all of the same size (63 _ x 51 _ in.). The joyful Springtime (1978), a combination of clear hues sustained by gothic arches like a stained-glass window and The Hawthorn, Garden of Another Time (1979-80) came to mind with the recollection of looking toward my paternal grandmother’s garden in Neuilly through the red stained-glass windows of the billiard room on the second floor. As some geometric pieces were beveled, it was possible to look at the vegetation, an especially at a beautiful pink hawthorn in bloom, from unexpected angles and diagonals in colors different from nature’s own harmonies.

During the 1980’s I became intrigued by doors, whether open, ajar or closed according to the day’s mood. Some were small, like The Door of Hope (1981) or gaping like The Temple Door (1984), but all were very true to my feelings, especially the ones that I painted after my trips to India. A door is always a visual metaphor for transition from one state of mind to another.

More recently, my emotional climate is best expressed by harmonies of saturated colors alternately intense or with added impasto in places. The shapes are simplified, almost elementary, since the mood is built up by continuous emphasis on hues that rise in intensity by their contact and overlay. This desire for serenity in the contemplation of the tangible world was most probably a very utopic way to convey a sentiment of peace at the end of a millennium where trouble, confusion and conflicts were dominant.

– Françoise Gilot

The White Shadow, 1954

Oil on canvas,
38 1/4 x 76 3/4 in. (97 x 195 cm.)
Collection Francoise Gilot, New York

The Green Chair, 1958

Oil on canvas,
51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in. (130 x 97 cm.)
Private Collection, California

This rather somber still life presents symbolic elements of sadness against the crucifix form of a blackened window, which holds little vision of the future. A vase of her grandmother's favorite anemones appear to be the only hopeful note in this tableau that focuses on an empty chair, once belonging to her grandmother, now silently empty. Gilot's supportive grandmother died in 1951. This canvas, imbued with emotion, was painted soon after the death of Gilot's father in 1957.

The Hawthorne, Garden of Another Time, 1979-80

Oil on canvas,
63 3/4 x 51 1/4 in. (162 x 130 cm.)

This image, part of the Autobiographical Series, represents the childhood remembrances of Gilot pressing her face close to the stained glass window in her grandmother's house and delighting at how the colored prisms of glass augmented and altered the colors of the gardens outside.

September Sound, 1997

Oil on canvas,
35 x 45 5/8 in. (89 x 116)
Collection: Dr. Mel Yoakum, California

Painted from memory following Gilot’s first journey to Egypt late in 1997, this lyrical canvas evokes, with an economy of means and through a more atypical, open composition, a felucca floating in the delta of the Nile. Here, having always associated sailboats with the exhilaration of flight, Gilot suggests the wings of a bird in the echo of the sail. The large passages of congenial blues – some more green, others more lavender – demonstrate Gilot’s own alchemy in creating a watery landscape through the playful, yet sophisticated, juxtaposition of saturated tones and gossamer glazes of color on color.

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