I love this painting–Matisse’s The Red Room–and sent up a silent hallelujah when I read I Allan Sealy’s Red, which begins in the Hermitage, with two characters bumping into each other in front of the painting. Sealy’s in classic form, check out this passage:

The Red Room by Henri Matisse

What it shows:

a room perfectly red, with a maid in black and white laying a table already set with a vase of flowers, decanters of red and white wine, assorted fruit. Two rush-plaited chairs up against the table, and a window to the left. Giant blue arabesques that swarm like serpents over tablecloth and wallpaper.

What it does not show:

The Fall of Icarus, Apollo and Daphne, The Beheading of St John and the Baptist, The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Count and Countess of Pujois, The Painter Himself, Etc.

What only I can show you:

the civet cat rustling this minute in the bamboo, here in our valley in the Himalayan foothills. when I looked up I saw its silhouette walk along the top of our brick folly, black against the neighbour’s white tubelight. Here it is:

——————————– imagine it ——————————

How exactly the silent flow of black hyphens across my screen as I hold down the key replicates the progress of the cat!
Shoo!

The other Matisse painting that’s central to Red is The Painter’s Family.

From Red:

In the centre, a fireplace–this is the domestic hearth in a family gathering. But the key member in this family is missing. On the mantelshelf is his stand-in, a sculpture by Matisse himself called (its name is significant in a picture of domestic leisure) The Serf. Matisse worked hard at painting, and could go on about it…
The boys wear blazing red suits even as they doze over the game. In later life Pierre will recall the tedium of these sittings; the painting shows Matisse knows how they felt. With a few crisp brush strokes this colourist with line catches the moods of his sitters: boredom in the boys, abstraction in his wife, and in his fifteen-year-old daughter, on the edge of womanhood, a molten mix of emotions as she, and only she, gazes out of the painting.

This is the first book Sealy’s written on the computer, abandoning longhand for the keyboard, and it shows; he’s had fun with typography and fonts, he includes a few of his own poems (Appendix, Marguerite, Red, Ribbon…), and the writing seems crisper and tauter. Don’t take my word for it, go browse Red yourself.