"My answer – Matisse’s answer – is that it opens onto black. It is a way of showing sensuality – sensuous experience – becoming something thought or manufactured, as opposed to felt. Denis’s ‘artificiality’ points this way. Or D.H. Lawrence’s ‘consciousness’. Here, for example, is the odious Rupert Birkin in Women in Love, rounding on Hermione:
‘Spontaneous!’ he cried. ‘You and spontaneity! You, the most deliberate thing that ever walked or crawled! … Because you want to have everything in your own volition, your deliberate voluntary consciousness … If one cracked your skull perhaps one might get a spontaneous, passionate woman out of you, with real sensuality. As it is, what you want is pornography – looking at yourself in mirrors, watching your naked animal actions in mirrors, so that you can have it all in your consciousness, make it all mental.’I realise that this makes Proust, by comparison, seem a real lover of women. And Birkin, to be fair to Lawrence, is meant to be a violent and dangerous prig. (A portrait of the author.) Nothing could be further from Matisse’s tone. But tone is not everything: sometimes excess turns out to be a way to get difficult issues in focus; and I believe that Matisse’s and Lawrence’s proposals about modernity are closely linked.
Could we imagine something like Birkin’s words, minus the nasty self-righteousness, spoken gently – spoken out of love? For Spurling is right: love is at stake here. And of course the words in question (transposed into an ironic, puzzled, even admiring register) are addressed by Matisse not just to Amélie but to himself – to his own anxious sensibility. I think that Woman with a Hat is all about getting sensuality ‘in the head’, to use another of Birkin’s insults – making it discursive and reflexive. It is about having the immediate and passionate – having colour, in other words – become a matter of mind."