I am the latest and most avidly-ascribed follower of The Principle of Active Irresponsibility. It’s basically this: if you are a person with any kind of responsibility, it’s imperative you use a comfy armchair with rigorous regularity. Don’t dust it, fluff it, or decide it needs a new spot in the living room: just slump and snuggle into its welcoming arms. Apparently the best thing for writer’s block is to cosy down in a comfy chair to work out for a minute or few exactly what it is you want to say. And apparently it’s the same for all us authors of busy-til-we’re-blue-in-the-face lives: we must take time whenever we can and an armchair is the best place for it.
Jürg Fröhlich, a Swiss professor of theoretical physics, says that sitting back even for a second gives us more of a bird’s eye view of ourselves. Suddenly tasks or troubles no longer seem quite so towering and the sitting produces a pause from which (as he puts it) “truly original ideas, insights, knowledge and gutsy actions can grow.”
Now there’s no better painting at the NGA for celebrating the perks and pleasures of Active Irresponsibility than Woman Seated in an Armchair by Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954). Truly, that canary yellow armchair (in fact I’d go so far as to call it an arm-lounger, what with the footstool thrown in) with red trimmings takes easily the centre stage.
The carnival colors here are of course something we come to expect from Matisse, the man behind what was the first modern art movement. Fauvism forced bright and pure colors, flattened perspectives and simplified details onto an audience gone sleepy in its Salon acceptance. The movement was given all of its momentum by Matisse and what I find moving to see here is even though Fauvism proper persisted only from 1905 to 1907 (after which its wings were clipped by the new kid on the block, Cubism), Matisse mainly stayed true to the principles he established at the start of the century.
In 1940 (when Woman Seated in an Armchair was painted) Matisse was moving towards ill-health and severe arthritis, though despite this his dynamism in odd detail and charisma of color remain rigorously intact. This is a joyous eulogy to taking time out in the day… just beware: it seems we’re softer when deciding decisions from a comfortable seat (e.g. sure, I’ll go ahead and snap open a second packet of biscuits, or buy that set of steel drums on QVC). Other than that, Matisse and me see no reason not to fall into and in love with a seductive soft seat.