A touch here of Linda Grant who argued on her website that you cannot have depths without surfaces. Patricia Hampl in Blue Arabesque argues something very similar. Here is one of her key passages on Matisse:
I felt the deep taproot of the decorative instinct in Matisse as I could not in Picasso. Yes, the deep root of decoration, for the surface of decoration gives way, for those who live close to its truth, to the labor and the pride in labor that Matisse knew in the Bohain textile mills and that my father and the old Austrian growers knew at the greenhouse, their backs humped over from lifting flats of petunias, their hands cracked from tamping down the dirt around a seedling's squiggle of white root, They were the ones with real taste, my father always insisted. They could judge...
Matisse subscribed to the old democratic weavers' definition of the decorative arts as "something more precious that wealth, within everyone's reach." The poor in spirit could hope to inherit, if not the earth, then at least a length of paradise in a bright factory-made cloth...
and, a page earlier:
Only one who had seen the unforgiving circumstances of industrial labor could understand that the odalisque does not loll on her divan as an erotic opportunity but is even more deeply sensual, an image of pure leisure, that commodity most cruelly denied the poor of the earth.
This is a very attractive line of argument and I am tempted to partly believe it. The world of Matisse's sumptuous odalisques is certainly more than pretty or seductive, though it is that too. And certainly it meant more than a decorative pattern like a fine wallpaper or carpet to Matisse. The fine wallpaper and carpet are parts of a coherent vision, in which the woman does not become merely an extension of the wallpaper or carpet. Wallpaper, carpet, woman, outfit, divan all belong together in Matisse's vision of luxe, calme et volupté.
And yes, that part about the voluptuousness of pure leisure being only fully appreciated by the poor of the world is likely to be true, it is just that we know that these were precisely the luxuries they were least likely to be in a position to enjoy and that Matisse's description of these luxuries was way beyond their means. Nor do we feel that the writer of this sumptuous prose is ever like to have been in a position where the experience of the poor of the earth was any more than imagined.
These thoughts come on return from Prague where we were able to live an extremely brief and very humble version of luxe, calme et volupté. The freedom to lie in bed in the afternoon in the heat of the day was a stolen pleasure and therefore sweeter. We could be odalisques for the afternoon hours if we so chose. Stolen pleasures, I say because both C and I are of the doing rather than being temperament. There were no silken girls bringing us sherbet, just waiters bringing roast duck. The whole of old Prague seemed to have devoted itself to the single object of making servants or served out of everyone.
What is the function of pleasure? Sheer hedonistic pleasure, I mean? Is it, after all, simply leisure with a better class of appurtenances?
We dropped some twenty degrees arriving in England. The hedonistic pleasures of England? Decent cups of tea. And maybe this:
The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.
Pleasure fading off to ennui or tightening to neurosis. The violet hour and what follows.