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Matisse/Picasso

Tate Modern, London

May 11 to August 18, 2002

Les Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris

September 25, 2002 to January 6, 2003

The Museum of Modern Art

Long Island City, Queens, New York

February 13 to May 19, 2003

Self-portraits by Picasso and Matisse

"Self-Portrait with Palette," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 28 3/4 inches, 1906, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the A. E. Gallatin Collection, left; "Self-Portrait," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 21 1/8 by 18 1/8 inches, 1906, Statens Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen, Johannes Rump Collection, right

By Michele Leight

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) are widely, and correctly, regarded as two of the most important artists of the 20th Century, indeed, the two most important.

This major exhibition, which includes many of their finest works, examines their competitive relationship and inevitably asks the question who was better or more important.

It couples similar works by the artists and in many instances Matisse comes off the victor because of the vibrancy of his palette and the economy of his compositions. The show, however, is a little short on Picasso's monumental Cubist achievements and his quite lovely earlier "Blue Period" works, so the rivalry is not really fully resolved. Picasso is probably the more important artist but Matisse the better artist.

Each, of course, has been accorded fame and for the better part of their careers have not been neglected, but familiarity with their works is no excuse for not attending the exhibition or devouring its sumptuous catalogue for it abounds in delight for connoisseurs. ("Matisse/Picasso," by the curators of the exhibit, Elisabeth Cowling, John Golding, Anne Baldessari, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, John Elderfield and Kirk Varnedoe, Published by Tate Publishing, Reunion des Musées Nationaux and The Museum of Modern Art, 2002. Price $60 hardcover/$35 clothbound).

The exhibition is co-organized by The Museum of Modern Art, together with Tate Modern, London, and the Reunion des Musées Natonaux/Musée Picasso, Musée National d'Art Moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

The "Matisse/Picasso" show had been heavily advertised as the ultimate artistic "face off" and the sense of anticipation was keen. Two of the greatest 20th Century artists - titans and creative sparring partners - one born in southern Spain, the other in northern France - had finally been granted a forum in which to show the world that it was possible to be friends and rivals. Their obsession with each other's work spurred them on to greater innovation and excellence, as each man sought to out-do the other, like fencers thrusting and parrying, in a relationship that lasted fifty years.

For students of the history of art, the intense working relationship between Matisse and Picasso comes as no surprise, but for the first time this Matisse/Picasso retrospective attempts to re-evaluate their relationship, showing their kinship with each other, which was often difficult, wearing (on Matisse) but ultimately crucial to the creativity and development of both artists. Critics have always portrayed them as "opposites," suspiciously observing each other's moves, seeking to out-do the other: Matisse the "decorative artist," the sumptuous colorist, and Picasso, the more inventive artist, the form maker. Clearly, it was far more complex than that.

Both artists insisted that despite their differences they were strangely in agreement - following the same path although not overtly. "No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I, and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he," said Picasso. "Our disputes were always friendly," asserted Matisse. In the end this fascinating and creative dialogue produced a visual relationship between their works that is unprecedented in the history of art, although many artists have worked together in "groups," especially this duo. Picasso and Braque invented Cubism, and Matisse was the leader of The Fauves, and was invited to join other "groups."

It is the influential relationships between pairs and groups of Matisse and Picasso's paintings in this show, often chronological - sometimes separated by years and decades - which highlight their inter-dependence. In one of the most moving segments of the show in the last two galleries - Picasso pays homage to Matisse almost two decades after he had died; he missed him terribly and it was his way of acknowledging his debt to him. There never was nor would there ever be anyone with whom he could dialogue in the realm of art as with his old friend and rival Matisse. Picasso had flawless instincts for talent and genius and never hesitated to exploit them: "I am the greatest plagarist I know," he once said.

On a much smaller scale, paintings by Matisse and Picasso were shown together for the first time in a mixed exhibition at the Galerie Berthe Weill in 1902 in Paris - a hundred years ago - but the two artists had not met. In 1906, when Matisse's "Bonheur de Vivre" (1905-1906) caught the attention of the critics and the public at the Salon des Independents in Paris, Picasso was impressed and knew instinctively that he had to re-evaluate his loyalty to the archaic art of the past in the face of such radical imagery.

"Gertrude Stein" by Picasso" and "Auguste Pellerin II" by Matisse

"Portrait of Gertrude Stein," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 39 1/4 by 32 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Gertrude Stein, 1905-6, left; "Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 59 1/8 by 37 7/8 inches, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre de Création Industrielle, 1917, right

In 1906 the American art collectors Gertrude and her brother Leo Stein took Picasso to Matisse's studio to see the portraits he was painting of them: "Portrait of Gertrude Stein," (1905-1906, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,)" is one of the highlights of the show, paired with Matisse's "Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II, (1917, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). The mask-like appearance of Gertrude Stein's face was deliberate, completed after Picasso studied archaic Iberian sculptures, repainting her face from memory. This entirely innovative approach to portraiture initiated the early modernist practice of painting masklike faces based on archaic European or African tribal sculptures - a trend which is repeated in many of the paintings in the second gallery in MoMA Queens.

"Portrait of Auguste Pellerin II," (1917, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) by Matisse was commissioned by a margarine tycoon of the same name who owned at least 90 canvases by Cezanne - amongst other modernist artists - which was enough to make him idolized by Picasso and Matisse. The stark, forbidding and abstract work - very much like the portrait of Gertrude Stein - did not find favor with Pellerin, who commissioned a second. That turned out to be less pleasing than the first, but he took and paid for both pictures of himself.

At the time of their meeting Matisse was 37, well-established and self-assured, and, as always, formal and reserved. The former law student was the son of a hardware and seed merchant and was born in Cateau-Cambresis. His years of struggle were behind him - he only took up painting in 1900 - and he was already the leader of the avant garde "Fauves," ("Wild Beasts"), a term used to denote the highly colored paintings which resulted from summer months (1905-1906) spent in the brilliant sunshine of the Mediterranean port of Collioure.

Matisse was "king of the hill" in the Parisian art world at the time Picasso was introduced to him. Typically, however, he did not rest on his laurels: he needed to push the boundaries further and was restless. The Steins viewed him as affable, erudite - if a little remote - the quintessential "anti-bohemian." Matisse was always impeccably turned out, a legacy of years spent studying law and his every painterly move was carefully calibrated. He possessed a formidable but cultivated charm and remained throughout his career an artist in the classical French tradition. "Under the bourgeois exterior there are volcanoes" he once said of his perceived conventional existence and marriage.

Then there was Picasso! Born the son of a painter and art teacher, in sunny Malaga, Spain, and from the outset a painter and sculptor. He set his own course immediately by deciding to use his mother's surname, instead of his father's (Ruiz). "Whipper-snapper," (said Kirk Varnadoe affectionately at the New York press preview, as though he was talking of a wayward teenager), audacious, the child prodigy from Spain - he was only 25 years old and full of opinions and attitude - not to mention formidable raw talent. Paris noticed him immediately.

From eyewitness accounts written by friends and foes, one has the sense that it was necessary to "brace oneself" for Picasso. He was passionate and impulsive, and unlike the older artist Matisse, who had waited for success, Picasso quickly attracted the attention of critics, writers and dealers. Most of his friends were expatriate Spaniards, and he spoke indifferent French - without apology. He was meteoric and his charisma was unforced and magnetic. To call him a prolific artist is an understatement. I recollect seeing his painting, sculpture and ceramics studios in Vallauris, Antibes - the size of a small fortress - home to this artistic warrior when he followed Matisse to the South of France in May, 1948. An ingenious "assemblage" by Picasso stood sentinel in the old, cobbled courtyard, so full of life one could just imagine Picasso swaggering through the door, moody and ready for action.

Picasso was capable of unkindness and cruelty but most of his victims came back for more and even forgave him. Others, like his son Pablito from his first marriage to Olga Khoklova, a dancer with Diagheliv's Ballets Russes, lived daily with the burden of being Picasso's son. He worked for years as his fathers chauffeur, and his granddaughter has written a chilling account of the Picasso legacy from the viewpoint of a discarded family and grandchild: "When you want to paint a dove, first you must ring its neck," is the unflattering quote attributed to her grandfather in the dedication of the book. Perhaps more than any artist, Picasso has depicted the "dark side," the Darth Vader, of the human psyche - as well as the positive and beautiful - as is skillfully demonstrated in this show.

Unkindness is never a consideration - let alone cruelty - with Matisse. A wonderful photograph taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1943, and reproduced in the Summer 2002 issue of Tate Magazine, shows the aging, ill artist holding a dove at his villa "Le Reve," in St. Paul de Vence - one of the most sublime hilltop villages in the world - while three more doves peer down at him from the top of a cage. Matisse loved doves, and obviously allowed them to roam and fly about freely and perch on his shoulders. Doves appear in numerous photographs and as symbols in his "papier colle" and paintings.

Equally moving are wonderful photographs of him in John Elderfield's "The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse," wheelchair-bound in 1952 in his Hotel Regina studio in Nice, cutting away like a surgeon at his collages, the remnants strewn about the floor like mounds of discarded feathers. This wonderful book gives a clear account of Matisse's papier colle techniques, and there are world-class examples at this show. ("The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse," by John Elderfield, first published by George Brazilier inc., 1978, is available in the MoMA bookstore/online for $19.95).

The catalogue accompanying the Matisse/Picasso show includes a photograph by David Douglas Duncan of Picasso with Francois Roque and three of Matisse's paintings, including "Portrait of Marguerite," (1906, Musee Picasso), which he had "traded" for one of his own in 1907. His body language - even though the photograph is a rear view - spells competition, prowess - the embodiment of the hunter after his prey. He had found his sparring partner and the contest had begun. Picasso exchanged "Marguerite" for his own "Pitcher, Bowl and Lemon," (1907, Private Collection, Galerie Beyeler), and both paintings are grouped together with the self-portraits by each artist in the introductory gallery.

"The classic account of this swap is the malicious one penned by Gertrude Stein in 1933. According to her, while each man pretended to choose the picture that interested him the most, in fact they `chose each one of the other one the picture that was undoubtedly the least interesting either of them had done. Later each one used it as an example, the picture he had chosen, of the weaknesses of the other one. Very evidently in the two pictures chosen the strong qualities of each painter were not much in evidence'."

Both paintings are remarkably crude which is why each man chose as they did - making no attempt to please the viewer, which had to be deliberate because both were gifted draughtsmen and painters. Picasso may have chosen "Portrait of Marguerite," the artist's daughter, to disconcert Matisse: this, after all would be the work that visitors to Picasso's studio would see and it was subjected to fake-dart practice by some of Picasso's cohorts - especially Surrealist painters, who found Matisse's art ephemeral and decorative.

According to the exhibition catalog Francoise Gilot testified that Picasso admired the "spontaneity, courage and candor of the picture, and later regretted his earlier complicity in the jest his friends had made of it." It was a willfully benign and innocent portrait and Picasso kept this painting close until his death. No one could ever use the adjectives innocent or benign to describe anything related to Picasso!

Picasso's awkward still-life, "Pitcher, Bowl and Lemon," was the opposite, reflecting, the catalogue maintained, a "savage combination of fearless brio and aggressive clumsiness," and an audacity that was his defining force. At this time, Matisse had worked more often in still-life, in which he sought the graceful and the harmonious, the exact opposite of Picasso's tumultuous, rough, over-crowded and agitated composition. Both artists would look back over the years on this particular exchange, each man comforting himself that he would never come close to anything as daring again, and reproach themselves accordingly. There is an unforced quality about Matisse's picture that is appealing, like children's art. "Pitcher, Bowl and Lemons "slashes" and uses strident colors, incorporating the savagery and rough angularity which echoes the influence of primitive African sculpture.

This departure by Picasso from the so-called "civilized" and classical influences of Western art demonstrates his daring and his genius. It had wide repercussions throughout the history of Modern art from that time on, far beyond the focus of the present show, and it continues to the present.

In their individual ways, the Matisse and Picasso self-portraits, shown at the top of this article, presented in the same gallery as the "traded" pictures, acknowledge the influence of Cézanne. Picasso borrowed motifs, like the awkwardly tilting palette from the older master, whose own self-portrait of 1890 was called "Portrait of the Artist with a Palette", whereas Matisse had already assimilated Cézanne's fractured colors into his own style. Picasso's self-portrait and "Boy Leading a Horse," (1906, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), also in the first room, has none of the Cézannesque angularity that would eventually define his work. At this point in time the composition and suffused, otherworldly light owe more to the paintings of Puvis de Chavannes.

Both self-portraits are as unsettling and revealing as the still-life and "Marguerite." Matisse, in "Self-Portrait, 1906," (Statens Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen), distorts his own image with discordant colors, and Picasso adopts virtual non-color in "Self-Portrait with Pallette, 1906," (Philadelphia Museum of Art), a study in monochrome, with an inscrutable mask for a face. Matisse's tragic-poetic demeanor and intimate gaze is enhanced by an open-necked, striped boating shirt, with its promise of travel and the pleasures of the outdoors and adventure: the professorial coat and tie and the glasses are gone. There is nothing poetic or intimate about Picasso's distant gaze, without a hint of introspection. He is the "seer" clothed in a laborer's smock, with muscular hands and a powerful physique that suggests the earthy and the supernatural. In later years, Picasso was often photographed in striped boating shirts like the one worn by Matisse here.

At the Steins' evenings at the Rue de Flurus, Matisse was urbane and discursive, while Picasso sat brooding and silent every inch the "bohemian artist." In addition to being a collector, Gertrude Stein was an influential critic and writer, who knew from the outset that she had found two of the giants of 20th Century art.

Both men were artistic revolutionaries, but they both shared roots that lay in the classical art of the past particularly in the work of Picasso. Matisse's audacious use of color and subject matter caused Picasso to rigorously re-examine his loyalty to the archaic classical past and also stepped up the pace of many younger artists and art movements around him. Matisse was enormously influential even beyond his relationship with Picasso, particularly with the German Expressionists and Der Blau Rider. (See
The City Review "Masters of Color: Derain to Kandinsky," Royal Academy of Art, London, 2002)

"Bonheur de Vivre," (1906), which is not included in the show, was the only painting submitted by Matisse to the Salon des Independents that year and it is stunningly modern even today, worthy of a 60s record album cover - and provoked Picasso to paint a "more radical picture." Early in 1907 he had begun studies for a large painting on the subject of a bordello. In the Spring of the same year, Picasso saw Matisse's "Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra," (1907, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland), whose savage distortions unleashed Picasso's own responses, resulting in one of the landmark paintings of the 20th Century: "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"(1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" by Picasso

"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 8 feet by 7 feet eight inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, 1907

This was one of the first in a long series of "painterly responses" between the two artists that form the basis for the present show. Matisse is credited with showing Picasso a small figure from the Congo at the Stein's apartment, thereby introducing him to "tribal" or "primitive" art, which is a major influence in "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," and in his painterly vocabulary throughout his career.

Unfortunately "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" did not travel to London or Paris for the "Matisse/Picasso shows because MoMA did not want to let it go, calling it their "Turin Shroud." Its "partner," or equivalent, "Bathers with a Turtle," (1908, St. Louis Museum of Art), was Matisses' response to "Demoiselles" and it did not go either because the paintings were "inextricably locked together." Curators take these matters very seriously: to split up the two paintings in the context of such a show would be unthinkable.

Matisse, along with everyone else, was appalled by the roughness of execution and imagery of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," but he also recognized that the art of painting would never be the same again. Picasso in one daring move had revitalized European painting by borrowing from what was then called "primitive" art - spliced with Cézanne - and his own unique vision. Matisse responded with "Bathers with a Turtle, (1908), turning for inspiration instead to the Italian Primitives notably the early 14th Century painter, Giotto.

Until "Demoiselles," Matisse had been the more radical painter. Picasso's choice of location - a brothel in Barcelona - is anti-Matissean. This is not a bourgeois apartment with graceful proportions and gorgeous French doors and windows opening onto balconies with sublime views. Sexuality in "Demoiselles" is not of the lyrical, free kind expressed by Matisse's sensual odalisques. Picasso's "demoiselles" get paid for sex - and charge for it - and express the deep anxiety, the "dark side" of sexuality.

In the Acoustiguide tour Kirk Varnedoe observes: "Everything about this ("Demoiselles") is meant to be an insult to Matisse's idea of feminine beauty, Matisse's desire to be consoling, reassuring and harmonious. Picasso exactly wants to stick a knife in that nerve and produce a picture which is threatening, mean and ugly, crinkled; a picture which will provoke, insult and agitate. And it's so interesting that Matisse's response is to reaffirm his identity on his own turf."

John Elderfield offers an interpretation on Matisse's "Bathers with a Turtle: "Demoiselles" pushed Matisse to define his own artistic identity in this picture. What Matisse does is to go to a different kind of so-called primitivism. He looks back to early Italian painters like Giotto who he had seen on a trip to Italy recently "Bathers with a Turtle" is a contemplative picture. It's an introverted picture. The three figures turn in on themselves and focus on this rather comic turtle. And yet the picture has extraordinary gravity to it." The gravity of the great Renaissance fresco "primitives,' who painted on the large scaled church walls.

The great treat of the MoMA show in New York was the inclusion of Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Matisse's "Bathers with a Turtle," both in pristine condition. John Elderfield, Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art, remarked at the press preview that the unusual "factory" location made the Matisse/Picasso collection seem "extraordinarily of the present." It is difficult to grasp that some of the earliest works represented are almost a century old.

Addressing the press preview on February 12th, 2003, Mr. Elderfield, said: "Kirk (Varnedoe) and I have been living together for the last 2 weeks. This show is the collaboration of 6 curators and it was conceived as a `visual exhibition.' We wanted to see how the `pairs' and `groupings' worked on the walls - no one had looked at Matisse and Picasso that way before. When they first met in 1906, they each painted their self-portraits and exchanged two paintings. (All represented in the show). `Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' changed everything in their relationship."

No mention was made at the New York press preview of the generosity of the United States in its loans to Tate Modern in London and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, but it was keenly felt by this reporter at Tate Modern when a dewy eyed student - with intense orange hair and green eyes - said of Matisse's "The Morroccans:" (1915-16, The Museum of Modern Art, New York). "It makes me swoon it is so beautiful." I claimed partial ownership of the painting by telling her I lived in New York, adding that one of the best paintings of the show had not traveled to the Tate, ("Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,") and she promised - with all the fervor of youth - to come and see it. There is nothing as universally loved as art - except perhaps food!

In addition to disliking "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Matisse found it "intensely disturbing," and one cannot help thinking that this was exactly what mischievious Picasso intended. "Disturbing"- even sinister - is an adjective that can be applied repeatedly to Picasso's "oeuvre," although hardly ever of Matisse, whose sensuous colors and sinuous lines soothe the soul and feed the eye that longs for beauty. Picasso was driven to shake up and overturn the ordinary and the habitual, like a lightning rod in a sea of calm Matisse loved order, calm and the comforts of life. Each artist's greatness becomes magnified in the orbit of the other's work, which is what makes this show sparkle. As soon as the eye grows weary of Picasso's morbid browns, sludge grays and blacks there are Matisse's burning viridians, Naples Yellows and peacock blues for relief.

Kirk Varnedoe, (Professor of the History of Art, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), added his lively insights: "Matisse, at 37, had spent years clawing his way up. He was confronted with a 26 year old with no social graces, who was a `life force' you cannot deny. At first Picasso made him angry, then he went into denial, then he absorbed it and it transformed him. In the 20s and 30s Matisse was alone at the top of the hill. Then World War II came along and neither of them left France, each taking solace from the fact that the other had remained. (Matisse was in the South of France and Picasso remained in Paris). Picasso visited the bed-ridden Matisse, who was busy working on the designs for the Vence Chapel. Picasso had a new young wife, Françoise Gilot, and he hated the clergy and Matisse's preoccupation with religion. Their dialogue continued after Matisse's death in 1954 and Picasso's later sculptures, drawings and folded paper models and cut-outs (papier collé) pay homage to Matisse."

Approaching Tate Modern's mammoth mass - from the comparatively spindly proportions of Sir Norman Foster's elegant "Millenium Bridge"- on a flawless August morning in 2002, made it easy to understand life from a Lilliputian point of view; it also reflected the reputation of the two artists whose gargantuan achievement had inspired my visit to the museum. The words Matisse/Picasso stood prominently against the glassed-in uppermost floor of London's "hippest" art museum; the converted power station dominated the South Bank skyline for miles around and the only architectural competition was Sir Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral, standing solemnly and splendidly on the Embankment opposite, steadfastly representing London's historic past. Pleasure boats and assorted river craft plied the Thames and cranes heralded the upsurge in London's construction boom: it was a heady mixture of the modern and classical. Shoals of young people were already gathered in the forecourt, sipping coffee, enjoying the morning sunshine.

The approach to the Matisse/Picasso show in MoMA's temporarily relocated Queens facility on February 12th, 2003 was equally dramatic; the complimentary shuttle-bus, thoughtfully provided from the original premises on West 53rd Street, proceeded deftly through New York's pulsating streets - despite a heightened terror alert - and made its way over the Queensborough Street Bridge. There is no more glorious sight in the world that the Manhattan skyline from any bridge, and the Empire State Building looked benignly over at the Chrysler Building - New York's Art Deco fairytale castle - through the morning haze. The factories and warehouses of Queens were a reminder that it was artists who first moved into Soho, now followed by Williamsburg and Long Island City, which houses the distinctive blue home of MoMA QNS.

"Still Life with a Skull" by Picasso and "Goldfish and Sculpture" by Matisse

"Still Life with a Skull," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 by 35 1/8 inches, 1908, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, left; "Goldfish and Sculpture," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 45 3/4 by 39 3/8 inches, 1912, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, right

The catalogue provides the following commentary about "Still Life with a Skull" by Picasso and "Goldfish and Sculpture" by Matisse:

"Still Life with a Skull can perhaps best be viewed as it has most often been, as a pendant to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon...and simultaneously as a farewell to the expressionistically orientated paintings Les Demoiselles engdendered and a prelude to the more objective, formalistically biased canvases that were to follow.....Still Life with a Skull is divided compositionally into images which to the left are symbolically male, the right female. A pile of books, or of books and documents, traditional to the memento mori theme, appears at the bottom left. On top of them rests a pipe, phallic in its implications, an instrument for insertion....The skull (Picasso smoked a pipe and owned a skull), could be either male or feamle....A confrontation between Still Life with a Skull and Matisse's Goldfish and Sculpture, executed four years later is revealing at many levels. Most immediately it serves to underscore the differing temperamental and aesthetic characteristics of the two artists. The Picasso is simultaneously melancholy and corrosive, deeply Spanish in feel. It has been remarked the Picasso often depicts grief and ganguish in shrill, discordant colours. Contours are sharp and jagged. The Matisse, on the other hand, has about it a diffuse, almost subaqueous quality. The pervasive blue endows the picture with a floating, expansive air, partly the result of the fact that the objects depicted are not laid down on the blue ground; rather the blue is painted up towards them often leaving a linear white nimbus of bare canvas at the point of nearest meeting - this characteristic Matissean device Picasso was later to exploit....the paintings have much in common. Both are pictures about contemplation- on the one hand of death, on the other of a particular phenomenon of nature - to achieve a sense of higher consciousness or reality. Both pictures use the studio and its attributes as the theatre against which their respective visions are set. Picasso's inclusion of his own work anchors the wider implications of the subect to his own particular domain. In the Matisse the sculpture at the bottom right is the terracotta verision of his own Reclining Figure I (Aurora)...a work that meant much to him."

"Lorette in a Green Robe..." by Matisse and "Seated Woman" by Picasso

"Lorette in a Green Robe against a Black Background," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 by 21 3/48 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1916, left; "Seated Woman," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 25 5/8 inches, Musée Picasso, Paris, right

One of the show's most dramatic couplings is Matisse's "Lorette in a Green Robe against a Black Background" and Picasso's "Seated Woman." Matisse's painting is much more vibrant and simple. Picasso's is more complicated and distorted. Matisse displays his bright side. Picasso's his somber side.

Less than two months after Matisse's death in December, 1954, Picasso began work on a suite of fifteen paintings inspired by Eugene Delacroix's "Women of Algiers," (1834), which he had often admired in the Louvre, and which had profoundly influenced Matisse's odalisques in the 1920s. Picasso acknowledged this debt: "When Matisse died he left me his odalisques as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient, though I have never been there."

In the penultimate gallery of the show, which is a wonderful blend of homage and creativity, Picasso's "Women of Algiers, after Delacroix," (1955, Washington University Gallery of Art in St. Louis) acknowledges the passing - and the permanence - of one of the most fruitful friendships and collaborations in the history of art.

Remarkably, of the 132 works on view, (including other media and sculpture), 27 are from MoMA, New York, 3 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, 2 from the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York and 21 from other American Museums, with an impressive total of 53. This does not include the numerous works from "Private Collections," many of which are American. "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" stands apart, even now, 96 years after it was painted. It is uncompromising and challenging - everything that great art should be.

"Woman in an Armchair" by Picasso and "Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background" by Matisse

"Woman in an Armchair," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 51 3/8 by 38 1/4 inches, The Solinger Collection, 1927, left; "Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 51 1/8 by 38 3/8 inches, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre de Création Industrielle, 1925-6, right

This show features women and more women, in every conceivable guise with a smattering of landscapes and stillifes to add ballast. Along with the women there is loads of sex both abstract and highly suggestive. Both men loved female beauty, but expressed it so differently, except for one brief period when Picasso found new love and his canvasses glowed with the ardor of Matisse's sensuous odalisques: "The Dream," (1932, The Wynn Collection, Las Vegas) and "Woman in a Yellow Armchair" show Marie-Thérèse, Picasso's new love, in his most Matissean" paintings to date. They are grouped with Matisse's stunning "Asia," (1946, Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), and "Woman with a Veil," (1927, The Museum of Modern Art), making it one of the most luscious female line-ups at the show.

In the exhibition catalog, the curators shed light: "Matisse's odalisques, although aloof, uncovered a promise of passion in their coolness. When in 1932, Picasso exhibited his far sexier ones at the Galeries Georges Petit on the anniversary of Matisse's exhibition, he somewhat backhandedly acknowledged his rival's help by crediting him with his own calorific personality:

"In the end, everything depends on oneself, on a fire in the belly with a thousand rays. Nothing else counts. That is why, for example, Matisse is Matisse: the only reason. He's got the sun in his gut. And that is why, too, from time to time, there are some pretty good things." Pretty good things!

Both men had their share of "women trouble" and stories abound. Matisse's forty-year marriage collapsed the winter preceding the painting of "Music," (1939, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York), and Madame Matisse's departure from Nice that year marked their actual separation. She cited her husband's attachment to his model and secretary Lidia Delectorskaya as the reason for the break up of their marriage. Lidia is featured in "Music"as the love-object of her husband who had usurped her, and his wife is the "other" who plays the guitar, a frequent symbol in Matisse's paintings in the early years of their marriage. Matisse steps back from his love problems in his paintings of women with a weary, philosophical air. By early 1940, the notoriously private Matisse family admitted to the separation and Matisse went to Paris to take care of the legalities.

With Picasso, his adoration, anger and passion is slashed onto the canvas and his women undergo all kinds of contortions and dismemberments. His abstract women paintings are so famous it is surprising to discover that each of these "generic" ladies was either a wife or about-to-be spouse of the artist as he tried to disentangle himself from the previous relationship. Despite his bohemianism and his appetites, he seemed to prefer the bourgeois status of marriage. Where he found the energy for it all is a separate issue.

"Music" by Matisse and "Serenade" by Picasso

"Music" by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 inches square, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1939, left; "Serenade" by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 76 1/4 by 104 1/4 inches, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre de Création Industrielle, 1942, right

Picasso's "Serenade," painted in the midst of the German Occupation (1942, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), is paired with "Music" and shows a woman stretched out on a bed looking more like a monster than a love or sex object. As in many of Picasso's women paintings, he leaves little to the imagination, least of all his expertise in all forms of genitalia. "Serenade" is quite conservative in that aspect, a tongue in cheek "take" on the reclining nudes of Matisse and Ingres.

"In the mid 1930s" wrote the curators in the catalog, "Matisse and Picasso had found common ground in Ingres's eroticism. Now, Picasso revealed the source so boldly, with life-size figures on a mural-like scale, and so disturbingly, as even to mock a hedonism now vanished in the dark days of the German Occupation. But it won't do to ascribe the paintings difficulties solely to the war, for its two protagonists have plausibly been identified as representing Picasso's former and current lovers, the indolent Marie-Terese Walter and the alert Dora Maar, suggesting a domestic drama in parallel to that of Matisse's musical composition."

A sleepy, tousle-haired art student had assured me back in August at Tate Modern that the September 2002 edition of "Tate Magazine" he was selling was worth the four pounds: "Very good article about the show," he said, as I walked off with a copy featuring Matisse's intelligent, bespectacled face on the cover. The art student was right, Neil Cox, Head of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex had written a brilliant analysis of Matisse and Picasso's working relationship and its impact on art history. In "Material World's Apart?" Mr. Cox also addressed the wider issue of the "shifting matter of modernity" in the art of Matisse and Picasso, which is not immediately apparent on a first run through the show.

"Modern art is now no longer modern" wrote Mr. Cox: "Perhaps it became historical when the Museum of Modern Art was founded in New York, or even earlier when the first "histories" began to appear in print. Every generation has to negotiate its past-ness all over again to decide (in this case) whether or not its history is like Matisse or Picasso, or Dali and Ernst, or Duchamp and Warhol, or none of the above."

How would Matisse and Picasso hold up in the eyes of an entirely new generation or art enthusiasts? Could these titans of art maintain their position in the swirling, capricious torrents of Post-Modernism and hold fast in the 21st Century, as the "deities of the now?" to use Mr. Cox's words. For someone who had grown up in awe of Matisse and Picasso, the undisputed kings of modern art history, it was somewhat unnerving to think that the hordes of young students crowding into Tate Modern might give the artists a "thumbs down." They, after all, represented the future.

With the sunlight of the Thames still dancing in my eyes back in August 2002, I found myself dwarfed by the gargantuan innards of Tate Modern's "Turbine Hall." Sculptures that would have been imposing in any other museum were reduced to miniature versions of themselves in the vastness. I pitied the long snaking line of visitors who had just learned they had a six-hour wait to see the "Matisse-Picasso" show, found the escalators, and gaped in wonder at the throngs of visitors on every floor of the largest modern art museum in the world. It was bursting with young people from all over the world, accents and backpacks colliding in carefree abandon. It was noisy but strangely comforting because everyone I had met in London had said negative things about Tate Modern. Controversy obviously appealed to the young and the curious, and it was by far the busiest of all the museums I visited. So there.

Tate Modern is a magnet for the young; the museum even has small "reading nooks" where weary students were camped out on the floor, resting against their bulging backpacks, taking a time-out. There is a lot to be said for making the young comfortable when new museums and galleries are planned and old museums refurbished. Hopefully MoMA will plan for the young in their new facility.

Having fast-forwarded past breakfast, I succumbed to stomach rumbles and headed for the café located on the top floor of the museum, which had been touted by London's media mavens as one of the hottest spots in all London. It proved to be one of the highlights of the summer, and well worth a visit for its own sake. A courteous, smiling art student in full black escorted me to a table and location that made me gasp with pleasure.

Smack in front of me was St. Paul's Cathedral, unencumbered by unsightly cranes and construction paraphernalia, which mar the magnificent "noble pile" at ground level. With wrap-around glass windows the panorama continued with the broad sweep of the River Thames towards Canary Wharf and Greenwich to my right, and the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to my left. The numerous boats and ferries looked like busy insects from the lofty vantage point, and the café was packed with enthusiastic Britons and foreigners equally amazed and impressed. A perfect cup of frothy cappuccino and a warm, buttery croissant continued the magic of Tate Modern and not one drop of rain had yet fallen upon this hallowed view of London. "Tate Magazine" was abandoned as I succumbed to the view.

Despite the timed ticket at Tate Modern there was a line to enter. A tantalizing glimpse of Matisse's "Le Luxe I," (1907, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) through the open door, with its luscious viridian green and pulsating burnt siennas - reminiscent of clay tiled roofs baking under the Mediterranean sun - whetted the appetite for more. There is no colorist on earth who works pigment the way Matisse does. As I entered, I acknowledged that I would have to be convinced that Matisse - who I loved far more from an aesthetic point of view - was in fact Picasso's equal. I had always placed Picasso on the topmost tier of artistic Mount Olympus, and possibly above every artist of the 20th Century. It would be a `coup' for Matisse if the show were to change my opinion.

Picasso's "Boy Leading a Horse," (1906-07, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), so familiar from its permanent residence for years in New York's temple to modern art, immediately set the contest in motion. I had never thought of Picasso as somber or dour, but when juxtaposed with radiant "Le Luxe I," the monochromatic palette was a stark and austere contrast. Both works of art are so different yet share the same sense of history, of classical form and flawless drawing. Both artists were masters at line drawing, where there is no margin for error. There are several beautiful examples of drawings, encompassing all styles, at the show.

The poet Guillaume Appolinaire, who was a close friend of Picasso had this to say about his relationship with Matisse: "If you were to compare Henri Matisse's work to something it would have to be an orange. Matisse's work is a fruit bursting with light," whereas "a painting by Picasso is animated by life and thought and illuminated by internal light. Beyond that life, however, lies an abyss of mysterious darkness." Picasso preferred to work late into the night, sleeping till noon, completely at home in the surreal world of dreamscapes and altered realities. He did not care too much about his surroundings: they merely facilitated his ability to paint from his prodigious imagination.

Matisse loved the light of Southern France, which infused his life and his work. His living environment was vitally important to him, the eternal aesthete. In documentary photographs luscious flowers adorn his studios, bedroom and living rooms. Fruit lies abundant and ripened to perfection in bowls. Beautifully patterned cloths drape the tables and exquisitely patterned Oriental rugs lay on the floors. Everything is in readiness should Matisse feel the sudden urge to assemble a still life or create an exotic environment for an odalisque. Seeing the women in studio photographs before they are transformed into odalisques show the monumental power of Matisse's imagination. This was one of the great achievements of the Fauves, the ability to do away with a drab gray dockyard or an unremarkable woman and - with a few masterful licks of pure pigment immortalize them in a radiant world of joy and color.

Even the interior of the Chappelle de la Rosaire in Vence glowed with a white light on a summer's afternoon when I visited. The large, brightly-colored components in the stained glass windows designed by Matisse let in more light than smaller, more traditional ones might have done. The extensive use of pale yellow and light green glass increased the sense of lightness and airiness as did the pristine white walls. The spirit inside the chapel invoked wonder and awe: it was exuberant and childlike, far removed from the atmosphere of penitence, sin and confession which many churches induce.

Instinctively creating contrast, Matisse used small, dramatic hits of black, which heightened the whiteness of the walls and intensified all the glorious colors threefold. He called black the queen of colors, and used it in an innovative way. Who but Matisse would use black in a church? It was like being in an electric rainbow, and the experience left me dazed. All churches have paled in comparison since that day. It was the entire concept, the newness and the freshness of the small chapel that was so amazing. Matisse was old and very ill when he created this sublime ode joy and salvation - and he had single-handedly re-invented the concept of the church.

"Flowing Hair' by Matisse and "Acrobat" by Picasso

"Flowing Hair," by Henri Matisse, gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper, 42 1/4 by 31 1/2 inches, Private Collection, 1952, left; "Acrobat," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 63 3/4 by 51 5/8 inches, Musée Picasso, Paris, 1930

The show has extraordinary examples of Matisse's "papier collé," and "The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse," by John Elderfield, (1978, George Brazillier, New York), on sale in the MoMA QNS bookstore, offers a fascinating insight into Matisse's creative methods, as well as unforgettable photographs of this amazing artist creating from his bed and his wheelchair, in the last two years of his life. Life-threatening operations and crippling arthritis did not extinguish his creativity or diminish his joy.

"Creole Dancer" by Matisse and "Woman in the Garden" by Picasso

"Creole Dancer" by Henri Matisse, gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper, 80 1/4 by 47 1/2 inches, Musée Matisse, Nice, left; "Woman in the Garden," bronze, 82 1/4 by 46 by 32 inches, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte, Reina Sofia, Madrid, right

The "papier collé," or cut-outs, were the result of Matisse being too weak to paint in oils or to make sculpture, and many believe they are the pinnacle of his artistic achievement. The examples at this show are sublime, especially "Creole Dancer," supposedly featuring Josephine Baker, (1950, Gift of Henri Matisse, Musee Matisse, Nice), which frolics with Picasso's bronze sculpture "Woman in the Garden," (1931-2, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid), in an inspired "pairing," and one that was hard to leave behind. The exuberance in both works of art is "childlike," the spirit pure, like the impulse to create. Matisse has a way of allowing the viewer to "see" color as if for the very first time, just as Picasso has with movement - the impulse to leap along with his "Woman in the Garden" was contagious: she was a lot "edgier" and sharper than Matisse's elegant Josephine. If I had to choose one "pair" in the show - for pure pleasure - it would be these two works of art. It is one of only a few "pairings" or groupings in the show where Picasso allows himself to express joy - or his version of it - in equal measure to Matisse.

"Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg" by Matisse and "Woman with a Fan" by Picasso

"Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 58 by 38 3/8 inches, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1914, left; "Woman with a Fan," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 by 31 7/8 inches, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 1909, right

Pulling back from hedonistic dances to structure and order, from 1908 onwards Picasso and Georges Braque began to develop Cubism, which becomes evident in the second gallery of the exhibit. Seven portraits of women are grouped together, each bearing the influence of Cézanne: not one of them resembles a conventional portrait, and it would have been something to read the minds of the sitters when they first saw these strange Cubist reconfigurations of themselves almost a century ago. Picasso's "portrait of a Young Girl," (1914, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), pushes fragmentation as far as it will go, reducing the form almost to a pattern, together with a lively palette worthy of Matisse. Radiating arcs surround Matisse's "Portrait of Mademoiselle Yvonne Landsberg," (1914, Philadelphia Museum of Art), integrating naturalistic curves and the sharp geometry of Cubism. No one has gone on record as rejecting a portrait by either artist.

"Red Interior: Still Life on a Blue Table," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 45 5/8 by 35 inches, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 1947, left; "The Studio at 'La Californie'," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 45 1/8 by 35 inches, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre de Création Industrielle, 1955, right

The catalogue provides the following commentary about Matisse's "Large Red Interior"and Picasso's "The Studio at `La Californie."

"Large Red Interior is the culminating work of a group of paintings that have become known as the Vence Interiors. All of them are bold and free, seemingly effortless in their execution, but Still Life on a Blue Table of 1947 is one of the most daring. As in Large Red Interior, colour and line interact yet led separate pictorial lives. This is also one of Matisse's last and most explicit statements on how pattern can be used decoratively, to animate the picture surface, but also by implication to suggest space and depth. To the left pattern climbs the pictorial surface steeply. At the bottom right it zigzags backwards and after meeting the lower window edge mounts up into outer space, joining the foliage above it. In Large Red Interior the black outlines, rendered by brush, are tempered by paler nimbuses of pale yellow. Here the superimposed black patterning and the strips of exposed off-white act in linear partnership. In the years immediately following Matisse's death, Picasso produced two series of paintings concerned with studio interiors, a theme central to the evolution of Matisse's vision, and one to which Picasso turned intermittently throughout his own career. As in the case of Matisse, but to a lesser extent, Picasso's domestic and working spaces tended to overlap: on the other hand, whereas Matisse's quarters were always elegant and orderly in their disposition, Picasso enjoyed a certain amount of chaos and was unconcerned with matters of good taste.The La Californie studio paintings are amongst the most overtly Matissean works that Picasso ever produced and, like the variations on Delacroix's Women of Algiers, can justifibily be regarded as homages to his departed friend. They are luminous but coulouristically restricted: some are in virtual or inflected monochrome, relieved by small accents of colour, others are bathed in a rose lift. Most are thinly painted. Picasso appears to be attempting to create an environment, a spirit to which Matisse would have responded, and this gives these pictures an elegiac cast that is rare in Picasso's work."

Probably the most important "duo" at the show, together with "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and "Bathers with Turtle" is the "The Three Dancers,"(The Tate, London), painted by Picasso in 1925 and the lyrical "Nasturtiums with Dance II," (1912, The Pushkin State Museum of Art, Moscow) because they are the ultimate in contrast. Matisse's painting pulsates with an all-encompassing light and lyricism, even though it is predominantly ultramarine blue. It retains an optimism, serenity and beauty that is strikingly absent from Picasso's "The Three Dancers," which is as wild, convulsive, disruptive and "brooding" as it gets despite the exuberant subject matter. The Three Dancers" has deeper implications, not the least of which is Picasso himself "the bohemian artist" - dancing on the edge, testing his boundaries.

While he was painting "The Three Dancers" Picasso learned of the death of his friend, Raymond Pichot, who is theoretically represented by the black shadow behind the dancer on the right. Coincidentally, Picasso had just broken up with his wife of seven years, the dancer Olga Khoklova, a colonel's daughter and a member of Diaghilev's "Ballet Russes." This is in essence an iconic cubist painting representing sex, death and sacrifice.

Both Picasso and Matisse designed for Diaghilev and in both paintings there is the obvious classical motif of the Three Graces, but with Matisse's ladies leaping about stark naked and Picasso's - well, depraved and naked - the classical analogy has been stretched to the limit. Both artists borrow from each other: Picasso uses a signature "Matissean motif" - the window - bolstering his composition with a "T" structure reinforcing the connotation of a crucifixion, also derived from Matisse because Picasso was not in the least religious.

"Still life after...de Heem..." by Matisse and "Mandolin and Guitar" by Picasso

"Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's 'La Desserte'" by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 71 1/4 by 86 3/8 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift and Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1915, left; "Mandolin and Guitar," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 55 3/8 by 78 7/8 inches, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1924, right

The catalogue provides the following commentary about Matisse's "Still Life after Jan Davidsz. De Heem's `La Desserte,'" and Picasso's "Mandolin and Guitar":

"No sense of foreboding or tragedy seems to trouble Matisse's Still Life after Jan Davidsz. De Heem's `La Desserte'. Yet we know from the letters in which he mentioned the painting that Matisse was suffering from acute anxiety and a painful sense of impotence as he waited for news of his family and friends at the Front. At one level the painting was an exceptionally demanding undertaking for he had set himself to come to terms with Cubism by executing it `with the methods of modern construction.' At another it must have been reassuring, if not exactly therapeutic, to revisit a masterpiece he had copied faithfully in the Louvre as a student in 1893 and which lay behind other paintings that were watersheds in his development. By conducting the experiment with De Heem's grandiose Baroque composition as the intermediary or, rather, with his 1893 copy he made of it, for that is what he worked from, Matisse gave himself the task of recording two totally opposed types of painting but at the same time set limits to the degree to which he was prepared to succumb even temporarily to the style which had effectively ousted him from his position as the leader of the avant-garde. An analysis of the geometric grid underlying the composition of the 1915 `copy' reveals how closely Matisse attended to paintings by Juan Gris, such The Watch of 1912.Other passages, especially the lute which is pulled round so that one can see its face and its side view simultaneously are derived from the early Analytical Cubism of Braque and Picasso, while the small vignette of a goblet, fruit and bread on a silver tray at the far right of the tale and beneath the handing tassel suggests Matisse had studied closely the proto-Cubist still life Picasso had given him in 1907. Indeed, the uneven, vigorous, exploratory handling the 'copy' as a whole is quite similar to Picasso's handling that in that painting Matisse must also have been interested in recent works like Still Life with Compotier, which he would have seen chez Leonce Rosenberg if not in Picasso's studo. If only because of the rich colour and pattern betokened trespass on territory which, by common consent, belonged to him.Evidently, Matisse was assessing different styles in the history of Cubism, and not committing himself to any. The painting is flooded with light and air and in that sense looks back to the more hedonistic and sensual paintings which predated his concern with Cubism and forward to the interiors he would execute in Nice after 1917.

"Mandolin and Guitar was one of several large, visually aggressive still lifes with which Picasso sought to regain the initiative and staked his claim the wide format. The raked floor suggests a stage; the space between the table-legs recalls a prompter's box; the wedges of papered wall to left and right double as curtains; the balcony looks as insubstantial as a painted set. And in fact Picasso developed the composition from his set for 'Night,' the introductory scene of Mercure, an avant-garde ballet produced and choreographed by Massine for Count Etienne de Beaumont's Soirees de Paris: the reclining figure of the set has been replaced by a group of still life objects and the stars of the backdrop have migrated to form the pattern on the tablecloth. Mandolin and Guitar itself was executed in Juan-Les-Pins only a matter of weeks after the premiere of Mercure on 15 June 1924. Although Matisse's updating of De Heem's Desserte looks as much like a fancy set-piece as the original and is opulent in an Arabian Nights way, it is not structured as a stage: the composition spreads beyond the limits of the frame, as if one were seeing only a sliver of a much larger whole. Even without knowing the origins of the composition, some viewers may be tempted to read the still-life imagery of Mandolin and Guitar in anthropomorphic terms because of the organic language used. One might see a huge, leering clown-like mask, with the wide-bottle as the nose; or (as in the tableau for Mercure) a nude reclining on a bed, the guitar and bottle forming her body from head to buttocks, the mandolin her hips and legs; or even three figure - two women (the curvaceous instruments) and a man (the phallic bottle) their orgiastic revels symbolized in the three interlinking apples. Read in this way, it as if the sublimated content of a dream were being unveiled by a Freudian analyst. Some connection with Freudian theory is not impossible because Mandolin and Guitar was painted a t a moment when Picasso was drawing ever closer to the Surrealists. .The quasi-Surrealist aspects of Mandolin and Guitar are what distinguish it fundamentally from Still Life after de Heem's"La Desserte,' for whereas Picasso was profoundly attracted to Surrealism and its preference for 'the forbidden zone,' Matisse always steered clear. The convulsive, spasmodic calligraphy of Picasso's painting is wholly at variance with the harmonious rhythm and fluency of Matisse's arabesque, and although in the Matisse the luxuriously appointed banquet glowing beneath the golden awning carries more than a hint of the sensual Orient of European fantasy, there is no suggestion that, say, the lute is an odalisque or that the two lemons on the compotier are lovers. This is not to say that Miatsse's still lifes never possess the erotic undercurrent, which is often present in Picasso's: they do, but, as in Goldfish and Sculpture,it tends to be externalised in the form of Matisse's own figure sculptures, which thus become surrogates for the voluptuous posing model. Like so many of his interior scenes which have no figures, the De Heem'copy' suggests human presence and human intercourse though the telling placement of the objects and furniture, but Matisse stops short of the metaphoric substitutions which lend some of Picasso's most memorable still lifes a provocative, metamorphic personality.The scale and iconography of Mandolin and Guitar, and compositional devices such as the rhythmic alternation between the extremes of dark and light, and the division of the surface into vignette-like zones locked together by the underlying gird, point to a possible connection with the de Heem `copy.' But one should not underestimate the impact of Matisse's post-war Nice interiors on Picasso, despite their modest dimensions and intimiste character, the pink, tiled floor, the balcony overlooking the sea, the light flooding through the open French windows, the lively patterns of wallpaper and fabric, the startling use of black to heighten the sensation of light are like so many quotations. Mandolin and Guitar and other bold, decorative still lifes of the mid-1920s by Picasso probably played some part in Matisse's eventual return to a simplified, abstracted style and may even have nourished the decoupages executed in the last decade of his life"

With its clean-cut lines and decorative patterns, Mandolin and Guitar may in fact be Picasso's most Matissean work.

"Nasturtiums with Dance II" by Matisse and "The Three Dancers" by Picasso

"Nasturtiums with 'Dance' II," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 74 1/4 by 44 7/8 inches, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, S. I. Shchukin Collection, 1912, left; "The Three Dancers," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 84 7/8 by 55 7/8 inches, Tate Gallery, right

Sergei Shchukin was an ardent admirer of Cézanne, with 37 in his personal collection. He commissioned a series of decorative paintings from Matisse for his Moscow mansion; "Nasturtiums with Dance II," (1911), was the first of three compositions, later joined by "Music."

"Nasturtiums with Dance II," is a meditation on the way art is made from art, in the serenity of the studio, the opposite of Picasso's "The Three Dancers." It is an anti-Cubist work with classical roots," writes Christopher Cook, a dance writer and broadcaster with the BBC and Radio 3 in the September 2002 issue of Tate Magazine. He continues: "The compositional germ of Matisse's " Dance" is the inner scene of "Le Bonheur de Vivre," in which a circle of dancers are having the time of their lives in the distant background. Reworked, that ring draws resonances from a range of classical references the Three Graces and dancers in red ochre on Greek vase - this is a staged neo-classical dance, in its balance and proportion a tribute to Apollo."

Picasso's "dance" represents not only the break up of his marriage to Olga Khoklova, who tried to make him "respectable" - he bought tailored English suits in London to please the colonel's daughter - but also a scream of rage at respectability: "In terms of Picasso's development," Mr. Cook continued in his Tate Magazine article, "this picture is a decisive break with the neo-classicism of the immediate preceding years, but maybe it also represents a yearning for the wild and dangerous, for Eros and Thanatos, for the world of horses and bulls and flamenco, for dancing with death with Maenads, not afternoon tea à la Anglaise in the salon with the French windows opening onto the garden. For Dionysius not Apollo"

Picasso - the Yin to Matisse's Yang, explores the more disfiguring and disruptive sources of artistic performance, in dancing as in painting.

Even when Matisse paints a darkened room from within - in black and somber tones - as in "Interior with a Violin," (1917-18, State Museum fur Kunst, Copenhagen), he lets in light - ingeniously - through the slats in the windows. The violin is enticing, beckoning the musician. Picasso's brilliant "Guitar," (1924, Musee Picasso, Paris), in somber contrasting tones of gray and black on sheet metal is majestic and immensely powerful, heightened by Picasso's acute sensitivity to graphic imagery, of which he was a master. "Guitar" has the grandeur of a Velasquez and the pathos of a Goya - and it is somehow menacing and not in the least bit inviting musically! It seems more likely to devour you

The show ends with two rather melancholy paintings by the artists, made more so because neither of the faces are visible, and both commemorate a crisis point in their lives.

"Violinist at the Window" by Matisse and "The Shadow" by Picasso

"Violinist at the Window," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 59 by 38 1/2 inches, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre de Création Industrielle, 1918, left; "The Shadow," by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 49 1/2 by 38 inches, Musée Picasso, Paris, 1953, right

Matisse's "Violinist at the Window" (1918, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) shows a figure framed within French doors leading onto a balcony. The subject harks back to Matisse's arrival in Nice, when he began to study the violin seriously: "Insisting on an hour of practice in his daily regimen, he chose as his music `studio' a distant bathroom of the hotel where he lived, `so as not to plague the neighbors.' Looking back on this period, Madame Matisse recalled to Escholier that she had asked her husband why he had become so obsessed with this practice, and received a dismaying response. 'Henri told me quite simply', she recounted, 'It's a fact that I'm afraid I shall lose my sight, and not be able to paint any more. So I thought of something. A blind man must give up painting, but not music. So I could always play the violin in the streets. I should always be able to earn a living, your's and Margot's and mine.'" Matisse kept this painting to himself throughout his life, possibly because of the painful associations it had for him.

Picasso's "The Shadow," (1953, Musee Picasso, Paris), tells an old story. A Greek Myth recounts that the first drawing came to us when a woman traced the shadow of her lover before his departure for war, "thus implicating the shadow as a primordial icon of physical evanescence and sublimated, surrogate possession," according to the exhibition catalogue. The window is a romantic metaphor for human yearning, as well as Plato's allegory of the cave and the limits of the cave - an equally ancient metaphor for the confining limits of our knowledge.

The literal translation is that the painting marks the end of Picasso's relationship with François Gilot. A few days before it was painted she came to the south to collect their children Paloma and Claude for the holidays. She made no attempt to see him, which cemented their separation: "Especially given this knowledge," the catalogue notes, "it is irresistible to find within this scene of afternoon sexual encounter, painted by old man left alone in a house of erotic memories, an imagery of incompletion, and frustrated fantasy."

The curators put it best: "Both pictures show the painters not painting, but involved, overtly or implicitly, in separate subliminations: for Matisse, making music; for Picasso, making love.

"Bathers by a River" by Matisse

"Bathers by a River," by Henri Matisse, oil on canvas, 259.7 by 389.9 centimeters, The Chicago Art Institute, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1909-1916

 

The exhibition includes many other major works such as Matisse's "The Moroccans," "Notre Dame" and "Blue Nude, Memory of Biskra" and Picasso's "Harlequin," "Three Musicians," "Girl Before a Mirror," and "Minotaur." The wonderful catalogue includes many color reproductions of other great works not included in the exhibition such as "Bathers by a River," by Henri Matisse in the collection of The Chicago Art Institute, shown above, a fabulous work.

In "Notes of a Painter" Matisse wrote of his art making: "What I seek is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which might be for every mental worker, be he a businessman or a writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue." If this seems overly simplistic, he remains one of the most sublime and monumental artists of all time. For Matisse, who had known struggle, art was the healer, the oasis, the wellspring of hope and joy when life was less than perfect, colorless and unforgiving.

Picasso, the prince of darkness, did not look to console or be consoled. He stared defiantly into the eyeballs of unpleasantness and hypocrisy, never disguising his anger, disgust and condemnation at the atrocities of life: he painted "Guernica," an awesome modernist work symbolizing the cruelty of war and he remained in Paris when it was crawling with Germans during the Occupation of France during World War II. ("Guernica" was not included in the exhibit). When Picasso recognized in African Art its innate beauty and greatness, he rejected everything secure and comforting in the western, classical art tradition that had nurtured and elevated him. He re-invented painting in the African/Cézannesque cocktail called "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," opening the floodgates of modernism and tearing off the shackles of preconceived notions of "good art" and "good taste." Always the "enfant terrible," he challenged, provoked and pursued till he hit his mark, exhausting everyone around him including Matisse. The result is etched in art history forever. There is only one Picasso.

It is the potent mix of Picasso's angst, energy and outrage and Matisse's healing, sophisticated "c'est la vie" acceptance of life - and above all his capacity for joy - that brings greatness to this show and to their collaboration. Together they covered the gamut of artistic genius, causing havoc and controversy as they prodded and poked at the conventions of their day. All angst and no joy would make life a dull business. These titans were fortunate to have found each other.

This show is a "must see" for lovers of art. If Queens seems out of the way, it really is not. See the directions below. The museum has a small café and there are neighborhood coffee shops and eateries. To make a memorable day of it, visit the wonderful Isamu Noguchi Museum across the road.

MoMA QNS, 33 Street at Queens Boulevard, Long Island City Queens
Tel: 212-708-9431 Fax: 212-708-9691/WWW.MOMA.ORG
Mailing Address: 11 West 53 Street, New York, New York 10019.

TICKET INFORMATION:
During the run of the exhibition , admission to the Museum will be by timed ticket only. The $20 ticket included entry to "Matisse/Picasso" and "To Be Looked At," an exhibition of works from MoMA's collection. Tickets are timed for entry every 30 minutes. A limited number of same-day tickets may be available on a first-come, first-served basis at MoMA QNS. Visitors are advised to pre-order tickets to ensure entry to the Museum.One Monday each month, visitors can pay what they wish. Entry will be from 4:00 to 7:45 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis, with dates to be announced.

Directions to MoMA Qns from Manhattan

Bus:

From Manhattan, take the Q32 from Madison Avenue at stops between 32nd and 59th Streets, or take the Q60 from 60th Street between First and Second Avenues to Queens Boulevard/33rd Street.

Subway:

7 Local train to 33rd Street station (approximately a 15 minute ride from Grand Central Station. The 7 Express train does not stop near MoMA QNS.) MoMA QNS is right across Queens Boulevard from the 33rd Street station.

E or V trains to 23rd Street/Ely Avenue station. Follow the signs to the 7 Local train to 33rd Street station.

N or W train to Queensboro Plaza station. Transfer across the platform to the 7 Local train (to Flushing). Go one stop to 33rd Street station.

Car or Taxi:

From Manhattan: take the Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge and follow signs to Queens Boulevard (Route 25). Turn right on Van Dam Street, left on 47th Avenue, and left on 33rd Street. The entrance is on 33rd Street between 47th Avenue and Queens Boulevard. Or take the Midtown Tunnel to Queens and take Exit 13 (Borden Avenue) immediately after toll plaza. Turn left on Borden, left on Van Dam Street, right on 47 Avenue, and left on 33rd Street. The entrance is on 33rd Street between 47th Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

Parking:

LaGuardia Commuter Parking (open 24 hours), 31-11 Thomson Avenue, at 31st Street. 718-707-0403.

"Harvest of Innocence," a book on coping with risky behavior by Michele Leight, is at www.amazon.com and at www.ashraya-ny.org

 

 

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