The Woman with a Hat marked the beginning of Matisse’s fame. It can be considered a turning point: the artist finally said goodbye to neo-impressionism and proclaimed fauvism — the art of bright colours, bold decisions and decorativeness.
Matisse exhibited it at the Autumn Salon in 1905. The poor public just had resigned themselves to the antics of the Impressionists, and everything changed again! The President of the Autumn Salon Francis Jourdain adhered to the position “I am, of course, a progressive person, but I know when to stop”, so he insisted on rejecting the picture, just in case. Jourdain did not go into an open conflict with academicism, although he sympathized with the new trends... About the portrait, he said that Matisse was “too modern” there. When the jury, in spite of his anti-patronage, accepted the picture for the exhibition, Jourdain exclaimed: “Poor Matisse! And I thought that he had all his friends there!”
In the portrait, Matisse depicted his wife Amélie. A bold, hitherto unprecedented combination of colours forms an amazing harmony and at the same time explains why this art movement was called fauvism (les fauves — the wild). Warm cinnabar, carmine, madder are balanced by icy emerald green, purple, cobalt. How could a woman be like that? But Matisse’s colour is always a transformed colour, it is not the colour of everyday life, it is the colour of painting, which confirms his famous statement: “I am not creating a woman, I am creating a picture”.
It is interesting to analyse the influence of Van Gogh on Matisse’s art. The Van Gogh style frenzy and impulsiveness both attracted and repelled Matisse. His path layed in the other direction — it was neither unrestrained adherence to the impulse, nor suppressing it in favour of rationality; but rather a kind of “feelings cultivation”, according to Escolier (in no case to be confused with didacticism — Matisse never let this on canvas). Passed through internal discipline, passion does not cease to be passion, but performed by Matisse, it acquires depth and subtlety.
The writer Francis Carco said that the Woman with a Hat instantly explained to him more regarding the avant-garde movements, “than all these paradoxes”, that is, numerous manifestos and theories of that time.
The picture caused a stormy, mostly negative reaction from the public, but the American writer Gertrude Stein wanted to buy it. She turned to the exhibition administrator, who named the price 500 francs for the painting, but, as a rule, the price included the possibility of abatement, so he recommended Madame to offer 400 francs. Gertrude did just that. Imagine her surprise when she was told the artist’s refusal to reduce the cost of the painting!
The Matisses actually were in dire need then. When they brought the note from the Secretary of the Salon informing about the buyer willing to pay 400 francs for the painting, Matisse was very happy. Amélie insisted on the refusal, stating that if the buyer is so interested in the painting that she’s ready to buy it, then the difference of 100 francs will not be significant for her. However, with this money they’d be able to buy winter clothes for Margot (Matisse’s illegitimate daughter, who lived in the family). Oh, Madame Matisse had to endure a few difficult days! There was no news from the buyer, and if something went wrong in the pictorial affairs, then Matisse had really bad temper. But three days later, the Salon reported that the painting had been purchased for 500 francs. Matisse’s personal acquaintance with Gertrude Stein was arranged later.