Matisse in the Studio

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Matisse, Henri (1869-1954): Gourds, Issy-les-Moulineaux 1915-16 (dated 1916). New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)*** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala.
Matisse, Henri (1869-1954): Gourds, Issy-les-Moulineaux 1915-16 (dated 1916). New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)*** Permission for usage must be provided in writing from Scala.

On the long list of things the world really needs right now, another Matisse exhibition must be near the absolute bottom. It’s not been that long since the Tate’s massive cut-outs show, a year since the Royal Academy’s own ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’ in early 2016 and just over a decade since their show on Henri’s textiles. Have there only ever been 15 artists? It’s like all the world’s museums got together and said, ‘Right, here’s the list, now just come up with different ways of showing the same shit.’

The approach here is to look at the great French innovator (1869-1954) through the prism of the junk he kept in his studio. Vases, masks, tables, that kind of thing. You see why they do this, right? Because old French dudes’ paintings of furniture and gardens are high-grade crack to OAPs in Surrey. Art porn for the elderly, that’s where the money’s at.

If you’re okay with that thought, and I’m not judging, then there’s plenty to love here. What you get are objects side by side with the works they inspired. A curvaceous blue vase next to a luscious still life, African masks next to simple, lined faces, wall hangings next to Orientalist odalisques. It’s Matisse, so a lot of this is staggeringly gorgeous. The red interior in the final room is perfect, the still life of lilacs is all hushed and grey, and the image of roses in a window (pictured) is so full of swirling, undulating pinks that you‘ll want to eat it like candyfloss.

The masks, vases, wall hangings and furniture are little balloons of artistic possibility for Matisse to pop. He’s not interested in these things for their ability to hold flowers or their cultural significance, he’s interested in them for what they can become on his canvas.

The objects totally pale in comparison to the art. Most of it is tat; knick-knacks from your nan’s house. It’s neat to see them, I guess, but it’s going to take a Herculean effort to get me to give a shit about
a vase.

But Matisse is Matisse, and Matisse is brilliant. He helped shape modern art, he innovated, he revolutionised, and he’s hard not to be completely in love with. Yes, this is yet another okay Matisse show, and it would’ve been great to see something that wasn’t, you know, Matisse. But if it gets OAPs’ engines revving, then it should be enough to get you started too.


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In terms of the painting selection, I wouldn’t say it was the best Matisse’s exhibition I’ve seen so far. But it was, without a doubt, one of the most interesting ones. Very often you go to an exhibition and wonder how the model or the location really looked like. This exhibition is an attempt to show us more behind the scenes of the artist’s work by putting his paintings along with objects featured in them. Apart from paintings we can admire sculpture, drawings, and the colourful designs and some of the famous cut-outs. I recommend joining the guided tour of the exhibitions to learn some fascinating stories of the items gathered and Matisse’s relationship with them.