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PRINT October 1980

Meditations on a Goldfish Bowl: Autonomy and Analogy in Matisse

A MATISSE PAINTING FROM the ’20s shows a woman observing a goldfish bowl.1 An image of seeming simplicity: much as Emma Bovary scans her world, so the figure regards the fish and, like Flaubert’s readers, we observe her in her observations. A chair frames her body and, beyond that, a screen; to the rear, a summary window, its panes bounded by the picture frame, indicates the border between inner and exterior space. But here certain complexities intervene, for the window (a glass) is actually made of sketches, one of which figures a woman looking in; and the mirror above the mantel (again, conventionally of glass) is a paper portrait of a woman in observation. Bowl, window, mirror tremble in ambiguous equivalence: the glass of the bowl is declared to be like the window which, again, is analogous to a reflecting plane. And, by this equation, the contents of the spaces are aligned: the space

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