• gerard van weyenbergh

Matisse, the novel of his art.


230 works by Henri Matisse tell the story of his work at the Center Pompidou, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth: from his first experiments at the turn of the 20th century to his last monumental cut-outs in the early 1950s.


On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Centre Pompidou (which has the largest collection of works by Matisse) pays tribute to him with a retrospective based on his collection and more broadly on French collections. Loans from foreign museums and private collections were added.(until February 22, 2021).

Matisse, like a novel , the title of the exhibition is inspired by Louis Aragon's work, Henri Matisse, novel , published in 1971 by the poet. Because the curator of the exhibition Aurélie Verdier, curator at the Center Pompidou, wanted to place the painter "under the eye of Aragon" , who was his friend and "a privileged witness of the work in progress" . It is the novel of a whole work and a whole life that the exhibition wants to tell, from the paintings of the end of the 19th century under the influence of Cézanne to the last monumental cut-out gouaches of recent years. "The richness of the National Museum of Modern Art collections allowed it, since "my mission was not to show the Mnam collections".

In addition to around one hundred works selected from the 150 that the Center Pompidou keeps, there are some 130 loans. Notably from the Matisse museums in Cateau-Cambrésis (North) and Nice, and from the Grenoble museum, such as the extraordinary Interieur aux aubergines , it is very fragile had only traveled in 1937 and 1993. Alongside paintings, the exhibition gives a large place to drawings, so important for Matisse, and sculptures.

Painter of color

The course, classic and very rectilinear, assumed by the curator who explains "a strong bias towards orthogonality", a nod "to the plumb line that Matisse uses a good part of his life to build his composition, much more than the arabesque with which it is associated " . Chronological is divided into nine chapters that cut out the major periods of the artist's five decades of creation.


From the first room, dedicated to the turn of the century, one is struck by the cheerful colors. Matisse is looking for himself, as he will do all his life elsewhere, constantly renewing himself. He feeds on Cézanne, whose small canvas acquired by the young painter in 1899 can be seen: "He draws from it and returns to it constantly until he gives the painting to the Petit Palais in 1937, when his art is sufficiently confident."

There is a neo-impressionist still life, and next to it, another more classic but dazzling with light and color, almost incandescent ( "Première nature morte orange" , 1899). Matisse travels to Brittany and Corsica, the outlines disappear and the colors draw the shapes, announcing Fauvism.

Henri Matisse, "Interior with aubergines", 1911, Musée de Grenoble, Gift of Madame Amélie Matisse and Mademoiselle Marguerite Matisse, 1922 (© Estate of H. Matisse Photo © City of Grenoble / Musée de Grenoble- JL Lacroix)

A huge worker but so stressed.

"This joy that I hear a lot about, this painter's idea of ​​happiness that we know when we don't know much about Matisse is actually a true cliché," according to Aurélie Verdier. Matisse, immense worker and very stressed (he is nicknamed "the madly anxious") seeks to hide the extent of his work and his anxious personality "for the benefit of simplicity and this happy, benevolent aim", explains the commissioner. She says Matisse used to lend works to friends who were sick or in bad times, telling them: " Live with my painting, experience it, and you might get better."


© Matisse Estate

Then unfold the Fauve Years with paintings by Collioure or a serious and intense self-portrait from 1906. Until the First World War, Matisse's research is still abundant. He drowns an almost invisible still life in a setting saturated with decorative motifs, as in the two extraordinary canvases from the Grenoble museum, L'Intérieur aux aubergines (1911) and Les Tapis Rouges (1906) .

He paints nudes inspired by African art, makes portraits of his daughter Marguerite, at the same time sober and "in depth" in the words of his son-in-law Georges Duthuit, art historian, who evokes the Byzantine mosaicists from Marguerite to the Black Cat (1910). At the same time, he can make an astonishing, almost abstract Jardin à Issy or a hallucinating White and Pink Head (1914) all in angles.

Jazz, gouache papers

The 1920s were a difficult period, seen as a return to tradition. He actually pursued his research around light and the insertion of figures in space, notably with odalisques.

His cut-out gouache papers appeared as mock-ups for large wall decorations in the 1930s and would only become full-fledged works for the Jazz book project ten years later. It should be noted, at this time, Le Rêve (1935), a beautiful evocation of sleep, where the lines of the arms on which the young woman's headrests so well reflect relaxation and abandonment.

In 1941, Matisse escaped "with the hair of an Angora cat" (these are his words) death. From there, "and until he died in 1954, he will experience a fate of extra life which he will say obliges him. It is also a kind of renewal in his art which is absolutely capital", emphasizes Aurélie Verdier.

Bigger and bigger

First, the canvases of the 1940s, where the colors, red, orange, are so exuberant, strident, even flash, that the historian and art critic Jean Clay will not hesitate to speak in 1973 of "almost pop" colors. Like, for example, the Red Interior, Still Life on a Blue Table (1947) from Düsseldorf.

© Matisse Estate

Then the large gouache compositions cut and pasted on the canvas, with which he managed to unite drawing and color, the project of his whole life: by cutting, he now draws directly in color. We see Matisse in a film at the end of his life cutting out his papers. It is diminished but it is getting bigger and bigger. The exhibition ends with a giant masterpiece, La Tristesse du Roi (1952), produced two years before his death.


1 hour video about Matisse art in English here

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