Richard Lacayo explains on his Time magazine blog the fatuity of the right-wing’s making Alma Thomas’s Watusi the subject of claims of plaigarism. Unfortunately, the Obamas have removed the painting from the White House late last month:
This has lead some right wing bloviators in recent weeks to charge that [Thomas] had “plagiarized” the Matisse — which entirely misses the point. Plagiarists try to cover their tracks. But [Thomas] is playing with what she and everyone else would have known was a well known image. The whole experience of her painting depends on the viewer’s awareness that she’s having fun with a famous Matisse — turning it on its head, you might say, or just about. Even her title, Watusi, which baby boomers will remember as the Chubby Checker dance craze of the early ’60s, might be a play on Jazz, the title (actually chosen by his publisher) of the 1947 book that collected the first suite of Matisse’s cut-paper images.
Snail, which dates from 1953, wasn’t in that book, but it uses what everyone had come to think of as Matisse’s Jazz techniques. […] The important point is that by 1963, when [Thomas] painted Watusi, Matisse’s cut-paper works were among his best loved and most recognizable works, especially among visually literate people. Like Chagall’s levitating fiddlers, they had been embraced by the middle class as what you might call icons of civilized jouissance. Thomas no more wanted people to think she had invented the forms and arrangements in her picture than Andy Warhol wanted people to think he had invented the Campbell’s soup can. You had to be aware of the original image to understand the game she was playing.