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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

How Matisse reinvented himself, radical

This exhibition wonderfully showed an artist in perpetual research with a journey that took us from hesitant beginnings to the sumptuous simplicity of cut-out paper. Aragon wrote: “Matisse made the problem of painting more complex, complicated painting, posing before all future painters the requirement of invention, an incessant requirement, which from the beginning of this century opened up new times in painting. . ”

Jean-Luc Godard for example, discovering in 1965 the painting The Romanian Blouse found at the Orangerie, said: “This picture looks quite simple, purely decorative, a blouse… And then, the more you look at it, the more you discover it as a feeling, a young girl dreaming. This painting is a thought and a feeling.

Among the many exhibitions, very few have addressed the essential turning point of the years 1929-1939 and Matisse’s crisis of inspiration.

The exhibition at the orangery starts with the odalisques of an aging painter recognized for his Fauve and Nice periods: languid women against a background of colors. But for curator Cécile Debray, Matisse then feels “stuck”, in research. A painting at the MoMA in New York embodies this radical questioning: the woman with veil, from 1927. A strange portrait where the face and the background are deconstructed, the paint is scratched, announcing the next decade of the painter. A painting “as tragic as the Mona Lisa” said Aragon again.

Henri Matisse: Woman in a Veil 1927, 61.5 x 50.2 cm, MoMA, New York, The William S. Paley Collection
Henri Matisse: Woman with a Veil 1927, 61.5 x 50.2 cm, MoMA, New York, The William S. Paley Collection ©Copyright Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence


In 1930, Matisse took the risk of the unknown by accepting an invitation to the United States from the American doctor Barnes, who had been collecting him for a long time and commissioned a monumental work from him for his foundation in Philadelphia. It will be Dance in 1933, the genesis of which can be followed at the exhibition, the successive sketches and a film in which we see Matisse at work upon his return to Nice working in a vast garage.

Henri Matisse: The Dance, ocher harmony, 1930-1931, 33 × 87.8 cm, Musée Matisse Nice
Henri Matisse: Dance, ocher harmony, 1930-1931, 33 × 87.8 cm, Musée Matisse Nice ©©Succession H. MATISSE Photo François FERNANDEZ

Previously, in 1930, he had continued his journey to Tahiti and its lights, thus voluntarily marking a break in his creation, and engaging a turning point in his work.

discarded as “has been” of artistic news during the 1920s, Matisse’s work then returned to the heart of the debates of ideas and reflections of the time, through regular publications in the review Art Notebooks by Christian Zevros, with Picasso, Braque, Miro, Léger, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Le Corbusier or Duchamp.

A great interest of this exhibition is to show beyond the apparent simplicity, even the hesitations of his painting, the density and the complexity of his questioning, through sculptures, objects from Matisse’s collection, drawings, engravings , paints. But also with series of photographs taken during the production of a painting where we see how, starting from an almost “classic” painting, Matisse constantly takes it up, until he completely purifies it.

We thus admire at the end of the journey the works produced by this research, with new masterpieces very different from odalisquesa journey into a new light with the Romanian blouse and the Large reclining nude from 1935 on loan from the Baltimore Museum. A series of photographs show how for this Large reclining nudethe flower bouquet has become a yellow shape, the model’s head has shrunk, and the background has become a simple vertical plane.

Matisse’s perpetual research was not over in 1940. At the age of 75, he was still completely reinventing his art with a youth, an unparalleled radicalism in the “cut papers”. He then wantsreach a form decanted down to the essential”, “cut out raw in color like sculptors practice direct carving”. Resolve the eternal antagonism between drawing and color by going directly to color, without the drawing.

Matisse Cahiers d’art, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris, until May 29

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