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Matisse, Picasso, and Their Models, in an Award-Winning Exhibition

  • Pablo Picasso - The painter and his model
  • Pablo Picasso - Woman laying reading
  • Denise Colomb - Francoise Gillot aside of her portrait by Picasso
  • Helena Adant - Matisse drawing Lydia Delectorskaya
June 15, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

The beginning of the 20th century was marked by the outstanding changes in every possible aspect of human activity, so the course of art has changed as well since the artists demanded new forms of expression liberated from the tradition and conventions. Matisse and Picasso were among the most progressive artistic figures of their time; despite the swift shifts in the art world, both of them made a huge impact and are now celebrated for their astonishing legacies.

Namely, due to their innovative approaches primarily to the media of painting, but sculpture as well, they are considered to be two of the most important proponents of modern art. While Henri Matisse was one of the practitioners of Impressionism, and later on together with Andre Derain a founding father of Fauvism, Pablo Picasso is known for being a co-founder of the Cubist movement.

A great number of similarities can be found in both practices, so it is not strange that they have been presented in several occasions together. Nevertheless, since this exhibition, which traveled to several cities (London, Paris and New York) sixteen years ago, the works by Matisse and Picasso were not exhibited together.

The Musée Matisse in Nice has decided to host this new showcase on the masters who used to meet during the 1940s in this beautiful city of southern France and were inspired by the Mediterranean setting and each other.

Left Henri Matisse - Young girl in White, background red Right Henri Matisse - Autoportrait
Left: Henri Matisse – Young girl in White, background red, winter 1946. Oil on canvas. Dation Pierre Matisse in 1991. National museum of modern art / Center of creation industrial, Center Pompidou, Paris. Deposit of The Museum of the Beaux – Arts of Lyon 1993 © Succession H. Matisse. Photo: © RMN – Grand Palace / René – Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry La Mage / Right: Henri Matisse – Self-portrait, 1918. Oil on canvas. Donation of Madame Jean Matisse to the French state for deposit of the Museum Matisse, The Cateau – Cambrésis, 1978 (Inv.D 1978 to -1) Museum Orsay, Paris (Inv.RF 1978 33)© Succession H. Matisse. Photo: Rights reserved

Matisse and Picasso – The Story of Two Mages of Modernism

The idea behind the exhibition is to reveal the notion of the comedy of the model, a phrase coined by Aragon in a novel titled Henri Matisse used in order to establish and understand circumstances behind one of the most successful examples of mutual artistic rivalry and inspiration. Despite the competitiveness, Matisse and Picasso were friends and spent much time in heated conversations, so they apparently had an influence on each other which can be traced in the life and work of both.

Therefore, in order to articulate this reflection and appropriation, the curators of the exhibition decided to examine the relationship enjoyed between each painter and his model. How the artists position the model, what sort of emotion do they reflect and how the gaze is being taught of, suggest much the question of the representation of the body and the creative act of the artist.

The showcase consists of four thematic segments, which cover paintings, sculptures and graphic works by both Matisse and Picasso, and it is followed by an archival documentation from letters over catalogs, to reviews and films.

Pablo Picasso - Bust
Pablo Picasso – Bust, (study for “The Young Ladies of Avignon”), 1907. Oil on canvas. Picasso museum – Paris © Succession Picasso 2018. Photo: © RMN – Grand Palace (Picasso Museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

The Exhibition Segments

The selection of photographs showing the two artists in their environment by various authors (Brassaï, Hélène Adant, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dora Maar, etc.) opens the exhibition. It perfectly illustrates the venues where both of the artists use to work and hang out.

Interestingly so, some of the photographs are a proof of the exchange of works between the two artists (for example, on the wall at the Regina Hotel in Nice some of the Picassos in Matisse’s collection appear). The selection will be rounded with the projection of extracts of Henri – Georges Clouzot’s movie Le mystère Picasso from 1956, as well as François Campaux’s one Henri Matisse from 1946.

The first segment is titled To Project and it deals with the matter of perception. Matisse and Picasso were, as it was mentioned, true innovators, so their visions of the composition and the limitations of the painting surface were positioned differently in regards to traditional canons. The artists perceived themselves as a vehicle of multi-sensorial perception that implicated the work of the whole body. That is how the vision goes far beyond the artist’s body and takes a special account on the model.

The following one is called To Transform and reveals how Matisse and Picasso were fascinated with primitive arts and how that reflected their own work; they broke the canons of representation by introducing unconventional human figures.

The third segment To Covet explores the artists’ inner desires and how were they projected on the canvas. Furthermore, with these works both of them were articulating the unconscious once again through the relationship with the model.

The last segment is titled To Possess and represents the return to mythology by Matisse and Picasso and a continuation of the rivalry.

The epilogue of the dialog between the two artists is the series of studios at La Californie. These interiors, which Picasso painted shortly after Matisse’s death in 1954, represent a final homage to his rival.

Left Henri Matisse - Marguerite Right Henri Matisse - Dream
Left: Henri Matisse – Marguerite, 1907. Oil on canvas. Museum national Picasso – Paris. Donation in 1973 © Succession H. Matisse. Photo: © RMN – Grand Palace (Museum national Picasso – Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau / Right: Henri Matisse – Dream, 1935. Oil on canvas. Purchase in 1979. National museum of modern art / Center of creation industrial, Center Pompidou, Paris © Succession H. Matisse. Photo: © Center Pompidou, MNAM – ICC Dist. RMN – Grand Palace / Adam Rzepka

Matisse and Picasso at the Matisse Museum

Matisse et Picasso, la comédie du modèle / Matisse and Picasso, a comedy of the model received National Exhibition of Interest label for 2018, awarded by the Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen. As a matter of fact, the show is part of the Picasso-Méditerranée program, an initiative of the Musée national Picasso-Paris, and it was made possible by the exceptional loan of forty artworks from the mentioned institution, along with one hundred and twenty prestigious loans of artworks by both Matisse and Picasso from public institutions and private collections.

This amazing survey on the relations of the two most iconic artists and their models will be followed by an illustrated catalog with essays of various contributors. The exhibition will open at the Matisse museum in Nice on 23 June and will last until 29 September 2018.

Featured images: Pablo Picasso – The painter and his model (together of 8 drawings), 4 July 1970. Pencil of color on cardboard. Donation of Louise and Michel Leiris, 1984. National museum of modern art/ Center of creation industrial, Center Pompidou, Paris © Succession Picasso 2018. Photo: © Center Pompidou, MNAM – ICC. Dist. RMN – Grand Palace/Philippe Migeat; Pablo Picasso – Woman lying reading, 21 January 1939. Oil on canvas. Picasso museum – Paris © Succession Picasso 2018. Photo: © RMN – Grand Palace (Picasso Museum) / Adrien Didierjean; Denise Colomb – Francoise Gillot aside of her portrait by Picasso. Digital file according to original print: Media of Architecture and of Heritage, Charenton – le – Pont © Succession Picasso 2018 © RMN – Grand Palace Photo: © Ministry of the Culture – Media of Heritage, Dist. RMN – Grand Palace / Denise Colomb; Helena Adant – Matisse drawing Lydia Delectorskaya, La Regina, Nice, 1952. Digital file according to original print © Center Pompidou, MNAM / CCI Library Kandinsky / Helena Adant. Photo: © Center Pompidou, MNAM / CCI Library Kandinsky, Dist. RMN – Grand Palais / Helena Adant. All images courtesy Musee Matisse Nice.