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Matisse: creativity and experimentalism.

From early still lifes through Cubism to paper cutouts, the artist's works spanned the Golden Age of modern art.


THE MOST comprehensive exhibition ever held of the work of the French master Henri Matisse (1869-1954) comprises more than 400 pieces that illustrate the artist's exceptional range and depth. The exhibition offers the opportunity for a reassessment of his career and the critical role his work plays in the history of 20th-century art. Matisse is revealed fully not only as a painter of scenes of primal beauty, but as one whose art rests on a foundation of extraordinary visual intelligence and rigorous discipline.

The retrospective draws extensively on the four most important, and mutually complementary, Matisse collections in the world: those of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; the Musee National dart Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. It thus is able to represent Matisse's most innovative period, from Fauvism through the experimental years, more thoroughly than ever before. By joining these with masterworks from numerous other private and public collections, the exhibition is expanded to encompass the artist's entire career. The show is divided into seven sections:

1890-1904: Discovering Modern Art opens the exhibition with Matisse's work of the 1890s, academic paintings and tonal still lifes in which his interest in the art of Jean Chardin and Dutch naturalism is evident. His transition to the vocabulary of more contemporary painting is seen in "The Dinner Table." From this point, Matisse's art is seen changing rapidly, demonstrating an interest especially in Neo-Impressionism and the work of Paul Cezanne. The influence of Cezanne, a dominating force in Matisse's art from 1900 through 1904, is seen in "Male Model" and "Carmelina."

1905-07: The Fauvist Epoch follows the early work with an exploration of Matisse's invention of an art of pure color. This period is richly represented through a group of his breakthrough canvasas painted in the summer of 1905 at Collioure, France, including "The Open Window," and by important subsequent Fauve paintings, among them "Interior with a Young Girl" and "Pink Onions." The conclusion of Fauvism is marked by the famous "Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra" and the two versions of " Le Luxe, " which lead to Matisse's decorative style.

1908-13: Art and Decoration explores the period when the painter established the use of brilliant, flat color and decorative pattern for which his art is best known. Highlights include "Harmony in Red," "Nude with a White Scarf," "The Red Studio," and "Corner of the Artist's Studio, " as well as the Moroccan Triptych, comprising "Landscape Viewed from a Window," "On the Terrace," and "The Casbah Gate. "

1913-17: Abstraction and Experimentation is a comprehensive representation of Matisse's work just before and during World War 1, a time of restless experimentation that led to highly abstracted compositions reflecting the influence of Cubism. Featured are "Woman on a High Stool," "View of Notre-dame," and "Piano Lesson," as well as the large, ambitious compositions "The Moroccans" and " Bathers by a River. " Also on view are many of the extraordinary portraits of the period, such as the untraditional "Portrait of Mlle Yvonne Landsberg" and "The Italian Woman," the first in the series of paintings of the model Lorette.

1917-30: The Early Years at Nice is dedicated to a time when Matisse painted more naturalistic works, notably harmonious, light-filled, often profusely decorated interiors with langorous or exotic models and odalisques. His color is subordinated to light, its gentle pulsation endowing the scenes with both great sensuality and a meditative quality.

1930-43: Themes and Variations reveals the artist's return to a formal simplicity comparable to that of the decorative period 20 years earlier, but now with groups of works that comprise variations on favored subjects. The first thorough review of this rich, poetic, and often vividly colored work includes such paintings as "Woman in Blue," "Woman in a Purple Robe with Ranunculi," and "The Rumanian Blouse," as well as a set of drawings from the famous "Themes and Variations" series.

1943-54: The Final Years concludes the exhibition with Matisse's dazzling last canvases and the paper cutouts that supplanted the medium of painting at the end of his career. It explores the broad range of cutouts he made, from the 20 maquettes for his illustrated book Jazz--works that revealed to Matisse a way of resolving what he called "the eternal conflict of drawing and color"--to the designs for windows and vestments for the Chapel of the Rosary of the Dominican Nuns in Venice.

"Henri Matisse: A Retrospective" is on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, through Jan. 19.
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Title Annotation:Henri Matisse, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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