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MATISSE PICASSO:
Two Giants of the 20th Century's Modern Art Met
at the MoMA-QNS in New York...


MATISSE PICASSO Explores the Complex Lifelong Relationship Between
Two Modern Masters




Matisse, "Self-portrait" (1906) left, Picasso, "Self-portrait" (1906) right


Exhibition Presents Rarely Lent Masterpieces from Collections Worldwide
On View In Its Only U.S. Showing at MoMA QNS
Openned on February 13, 2003
Will be closed on May 19, 2003

 

(NEW YORK, February 2003) СMatisse Picasso, an examination of the lifelong relationship between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, two of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, opens at MoMA QNS, its only U.S. venue, on February 13, 2003. It will remain on view through May 19. The exhibition traces the artistic dialogue between the two men over the course of a nearly half-century relationship that was much closer, visually and psychologically, than has previously been acknowledged. Matisse Picasso features 132 works in groupings that reveal the affinities and influences, as well as the contrasts, between the artists. The exhibition begins in 1906, with self-portraits painted by the artists at the time of their meeting in Paris and with works they exchanged soon after. It ends in 1961, with sculpture by Picasso that paid tribute to Matisse, who died in 1954.

The exhibition is a collaboration between The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; and the RЋunion des musЋes nationaux/MusЋe Picasso, MusЋe national dХart moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and was shown at Tate Modern in London from May 11 to August 18, 2002, and at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris from September 22, 2002 to January 6, 2003. Eight paintings are unique to the MoMA exhibition, enabling the curators to assemble fresh juxtapositions not seen in the previous showings. Close cooperation between the four collaborating museums and generous loans from other museums, private collectors, and the families of both artists have created an unprecedented assembly of works seen together in the U.S. for the first time. The exhibition is organized by John Elderfield, Chief Curator at Large, The Museum of Modern Art; Kirk Varnedoe, Professor of the History of Art, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; John Golding, painter and art historian, London; Elizabeth Cowling, Senior Lecturer, Department of Fine Art, University of Edinburgh; Anne Baldassari, Curator, MusЋe Picasso, Paris; and Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, Deputy Director, MusЋe national dХart moderne, Paris.

The exhibition and its accompanying publication and education programs are sponsored by Merrill Lynch. Historians have often set the two painters in opposition, presenting Matisse as a maker of luxuriously colored, harmonious images, while Picasso is seen as the more conceptual painter, emphasizing form over color and anguish over serenity. This exhibition demonstrates that even as the painters worked in open rivalry, observing each otherХs moves and competing for critical attention in the art world, they were, in MatisseХs words, strangely in agreement.У Picasso echoed the sentiment when he stated, ТNo one has looked at MatisseХs painting more carefully than I, and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he.У Mr. Elderfield says, ТThe works of Matisse and Picasso have been studied at extraordinary length.

However, this exhibition is unique in illuminating the visual relationship of their works throughout their long careers. It makes everything look different; the familiar histories will now have to be revised.У Mr. Varnedoe states, ТInfluence seems a narrow, inadequate word for the rich exchanges of these great artists. Over a lifetime of rivalry, each man discovered aspects of himself through the work of the other, and reinvented aspects of the other in his own work. Neither would have achieved his true originality or greatness without the other.У

The exhibition is comprised of 78 paintings, augmented by 23 sculptures in painted sheet metal, bronze and plaster; 29 works on paper, including drawings and cut-paper collage; and 2 woodcuts. The open architecture of MoMA QNS provides for optimum flexibility in exhibition design, enabling MoMA to create a customized installation of these works. The largest part of the exhibition concentrates on works produced between 1906 and 1917, when the painters were in open competition. Even at this early stage, they were exploring remarkably similar thematic territory, as seen in the juxtaposition of PicassoХs Boy Leading a Horse (1906) with MatisseХs Le luxe I (1907), which both avoid clear narrative in favor of quasi-mythic subject matter. Both MatisseХs celebrated and controversial Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra (1907) and PicassoХs Bather (1908-09) retain clichЋd poses of seductive self-display, even as they challenge the canons of art and feminine allure. In PicassoХs seminal painting Les Demoiselles dХAvignon (1907) and MatisseХs Bathers with a Turtle (1908), an important pairing shown only at MoMA, contrast between the two artists emerges. In Bathers, Matisse rejects PicassoХs fractured tribal primitivismСwhich he found uncouth and shockingСin favor of a different ТprimitiveУ model recalling such early Renaissance painters as Giotto. Despite their differences, both Demoiselles and Bathers defy the long-held rule that large-scale figural compositions require a clear narrative.


Picasso, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", 1907



From 1909 until the end of World War I, Cubism dominated the dialogue between Matisse and Picasso, as demonstrated in a superlative grouping of eight paintings of women. These works integrate naturalistic curves with the sharp geometry of Cubism and show the influence of African art, as seen in the masklike elements and
severe, abstracted lines in MatisseХs 1913 portrait of his wife and in PicassoХs Woman in Yellow (1907). In Portrait of Mlle Yvonne Landsberg (1914), Matisse employs radiating arcs to surround the figure, while in Portrait 3 of a Young Girl (1914) Picasso pushes cubistic fragmentation of the figure much further, coupled with a bravura display of pattern and color reminiscent of Matisse.


Matisse, "Bathers with a Turtle", 1908


MatisseХs attention to the forms and pictorial strategies of Cubism can also be seen in the juxtaposition of two major paintings: MatisseХs Goldfish and Palette of late 1914 and PicassoХs Harlequin of late 1915. In Goldfish and Palette, Matisse borrowed the large, flat shapes that Picasso had employed in his earlier experiments with papier collЋ (cut and glued paper collage) and incorporated them into a bigger, bolder, and more geometric composition. In turn, Harlequin echoes the strong vertical parallels and depiction of an artistХs palette seen in Goldfish and Palette, and marks a change from PicassoХs playfully ornate style of Cubism into one that was more austere. Matisse greatly admired PicassoХs painting when it was exhibited in 1915 and speculated that it was Тhis goldfishУ that led Picasso to the breakthrough of Harlequin.

A quartet of grand-scale compositions illuminates the point and counterpoint of influence. MatisseХs elegiac memory of North Africa, The Moroccans (1915Р16), and radical abstraction of a genre scene in The Piano Lesson (1916) apply the principles of PicassoХs collages to paintings of heroic ambition and importance, and represent MatisseХs most dramatic response to Cubism. During the same period, Picasso expanded on the harlequin theme and produced Man Leaning on a Table (1915Р16), his largest painting since Les Demoiselles dХAvignon, and one of the paintings that are unique to the New York exhibition. He later responded to MatisseХs interpretation of Cubism with a playful update of his style, as seen in Three Musicians (1921).

Beginning in 1917, Matisse moved to Nice and reverted to a more intimate, introspective, and naturalistic manner. Picasso stayed mostly in Paris and worked in diverse styles while becoming more deeply involved in Surrealism. The Surrealist ethos, which Picasso did so much to foster, served to further distance the two artists, yet they continued to study one anotherХs work and respond to each other in new ways.

During his early years in Nice, Matisse often used the traditional motif of the odalisque, or harem-girl. In Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background (1925Р26), which caused a critical uproar when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1926, Matisse positions an illogically sculpted, three-dimensional nude figure against a flamboyantly colored and patterned flat background. Picasso could not have missed the painting or the controversy, and he responded in 1927 by painting such Тanti-odalisques,У as Woman in an Armchair (1927), which shows a monstrous, primeval figure painted in stark and ominous colors, in keeping with the dark, Surrealist mood that informed his painting at this time.

The distorted nudes painted by Picasso from 1925 to 1930 look like brutal challenges to MatisseХs sensuous figures. In the early 1930s, however, the harshness seen in PicassoХs depiction of the female form softened after he found love with Marie-ThЋrЏse Walter. PicassoХs Nude in a Black Armchair (1932) could be described as ТMatisseanУ in its color, light, pattern, plump flesh, and erotic ambience. Picasso had never before adopted MatisseХs manner so thoroughly, prompting MatisseХs return to easel painting after years of working on a mural commission to create the bold, stately composition Large Reclining Nude (The Pink Nude) (1935). 4

During World War II, while Matisse was isolated in Nice and Picasso remained in difficult circumstances in occupied Paris, they managed to exchange works and drew support from one another. After the war ended, Picasso joined Matisse in the south of France, and the now famous and wealthy artists saw each other regularly as their relationship entered its final and closest phase. MatisseХs Large Red Interior (1948), a dazzling depiction of his studio, represents his final expression of the vibrant relationship between line and color, and forms the summation of his career as an easel painter. It is paired with a studio interior by Picasso, The Studio at La

Californie (1955), a poignant, virtually monochrome painting produced a year after MatisseХs death in November 1954, that can justifiably be regarded as an homage to his departed friend. When MatisseХs health began to decline in his final years, he developed a technique that allowed him to work while seated, cutting shapes from colored paper and directing assistants to form compositions. Picasso followed this evolution closely, and between 1961 and 1962 he produced bent-metal sculptures with striking affinities to MatisseХs cut-outs. A dramatic section of the exhibition showing acrobatic dancers and nudes reveals the remarkable crossovers between PicassoХs late sculptures, which became increasingly flat and pictorial, and MatisseХs cut-out paper collages, monolithic figures on flat grounds that seem to aspire to sculpture.

Two months after MatisseХs death, Picasso began a 15-painting cycle of variations on EugЏne DelacroixХs Women of Algiers (1834), a painting depicting odalisques in a haremСone of MatisseХs favorite subjectsСand a work that both Picasso and Matisse had admired. In one version, Women of Algiers, after Delacroix (Canvas N) (1955), Picasso keeps both Delacroix and Matisse alive but contorts the figures in harsh, aggressive ways that are strictly his own.

The haunting final juxtaposition in the exhibition consists of two self-portrayals made at a time of personal crisis for each artist: MatisseХs Violinist at the Window (1918) and PicassoХs The Shadow (1953). In viewing them together, one can see echoes of motif, emotion, and form. In Violinist at the Window, Matisse fuses three themes

that recurred throughout his career: the window, the back view, and music. This poignant painting of lonely isolation and the consolations of art, created soon after Matisse moved to Nice during a time of transition and uncertainty, was never shown while he was alive. The Shadow was painted when Picasso was 73, shortly after

his young wife FranЌoise Gilot had left him. In this haunting image, a plane of afternoon light casts the artist's own shadow into their bedroom, but that shadow misses contact with the arching female form that embodies his imagination of lost love.

- . -

SPONSORSHIP:

The exhibition and accompanying publication and education programs are sponsored by a major grant is also provided by The Starr Foundation. An indemnity for the exhibition has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional funding is provided by Monique M. Schoen Warshaw.5

 

PUBLICATIONS:

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue discussing the comparisons in depth and giving relevant background information regarding the dialogue between these two remarkable artists. The clothbound catalogue contains 34 essays, each by a member of the exhibition's curatorial team. Price: $60.00. It is available at

The MoMA Stores, online at www.momastore.org and to the trade through Distributed Art Publishers (D.A.P.) in New York. The paperbound edition is available exclusively at MoMA Stores and online. Price: $35.00.

Looking at Matisse and Picasso, published by MoMAХs Department of Education in conjunction with the New York showing of Matisse Picasso, is an accessible introduction to the ideas embedded in the exhibition, and was designed for general audiences aged nine to ninety. The 72-page paperbound volume is authored by Mara del Carmen Gonzlez and Susanna Harwood Rubin, who are both artists and educators in the Department of Education.

 

Ticket & How to go to MoMA-QNS?

The $20 ticket ($15.50 for students and seniors) includes entry to Matisse Picasso and exhibitions of works from MoMAХs 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.

Bus: From Manhattan, take the Q32 from Madison Avenue at stops between 32 and 59 Streets, or take the Q60 from 60 Street between First and Second Avenues to Queens Boulevard/33 Street.

The Queens Artlink: The Queens Artlink is a free weekend shuttle service to MoMA QNS and other cultural attractions in Queens, operating Saturday and

Sunday, with hourly departures beginning at 10:00 a.m. (last departure at 4:00 p.m.) from West 53 Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) in Manhattan. The bus will make return trips from MoMA QNS to Manhattan with hourly departures starting at 10:30 a.m. (last departure at 5:30 p.m.). Another bus travels from MoMA QNS to P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and other Queens cultural destinations. For further information call 212/708-9750 or visit www.queensartlink.org.

Subway: Ґ 7 Local train to 33 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 33 Street station.

ҐE or V trains to 23 Street/Ely Avenue station (Metrocard transfer only). Follow the signs to the 7 Local train to 33 Street station.

Ґ N or W train to Queensboro Plaza station. Transfer across the platform to the 7 Local train (to Flushing). Go one stop to 33 Street station. The entrance is on 33 Street between 47 Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

For other directions, please visit www.moma.org/momaqns/directions.
The public may call
212/708-9400 for detailed Museum information.

   
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