Matisse in the Studio at the MFA
Collectibles Demonstrate Master Artist's Theatricality
By: Mark Favermann - May 13, 2017
French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was a seminal influence on 20th Century Art, a creative spirit who helped define the century’s revolutionary approach to the visual. The MFA’s Matisse in the Studio – the only venue in North America where this exhibition will be shown – is the first major international show to examine how the objects in the artist’s personal collection played in powerful role in shaping his art. It is a fascinating look at how the objects he regarded with affection effected a great artist’s oeuvre.
Matisse is celebrated for both his magnificent use of color and his distinctively fluid approach to drawing. His work was initially labeled to be in the Fauve style (‘wild beast’), but he was increasingly recognized during the 1920s as an artist who bridged Modernism with the classical tradition of figurative French painting. The unrivaled master of an expressive use of color, often poetically infused into a gestural drawing, Matisse’s vision evolved over the course of a half century.
His inspired approach to the psychological values of color and composition is among his strengths. He stated that he did not paint an actual object so much as express the emotion that it stirred in him. He did this by way of vibrant color, line, and gesture. Born in Northern France, he studied in Paris and moved frequently during his long career, toting his personal collection of objects with him from studio to studio. He eventually settled in Nice. This exhibition underscores Matisse’s extensive and sustained interest in the art of cultures that sat outside of his native French tradition.
The artist was an avid collector of things that appealed to him aesthetically, materially, and creatively. These collectibles had a profound influence on his creative choices, and by examining them we have a priceless opportunity to see how the artist’s mind worked and the ways his creative process unfolded.
In 1951, Matisse acknowledged his objects as “actors,” stating that “A good actor can have a part in ten different plays; an object can play a role in ten different pictures.” Visitors to the Matisse Studio often came away feeling that this creative space was arranged for maximum theatrical power — influential objects were dramatically juxtaposed with the artist’s work.
Focusing on Matisse’s strategy, this exhibition presents a selection of major works from different periods of his career. These include 34 paintings, 26 drawings, 11 bronzes, seven cut-outs and three prints, as well as a delightful illustrated book. The artworks are presented alongside 40 objects that the artist kept in his studio, many publicly exhibited outside of France for the first time.
Ultimately, Matisse in the Studio gives us unusual way to appreciate Matisse’s imagination. In the studio he was a skillful theater director, showcasing the strengths of his ‘actors’ in various stage-settings. His goal was to choreograph emotional images, to set up — in the space around him — dramatic arrangements of color and line by placing his objects/props in various relationships to each other. In that sense, his collectibles played starring roles in his artistic productions.
Matisse in The Studio is at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Ann and Graham Gund Gallery, through July 9.
This review was reposted by permission of Arts Fuse which previously published it.