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.
exhibition, which includes many of their finest works, examines
their competitive relationship and inevitably asks the question
who was better or more important.
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.
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).
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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).
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
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
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."
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."
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.
provides the following commentary about "Still Life with
a Skull" by Picasso and "Goldfish and Sculpture"
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The catalogue provides the
following commentary about Matisse's "Still Life after Jan
Davidsz. De Heem's `La Desserte,'" and Picasso's "Mandolin
"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.
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."
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
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
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" (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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
LaGuardia Commuter Parking (open 24 hours), 31-11 Thomson Avenue,
at 31st Street. 718-707-0403.