Matisse: In Search of True Painting is the title of the last exhibition in the 2012 calendar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It opened Dec. 4 and runs until mid-March.
Throughout his stylistic development, Matisse (1869-1954), one of the most recognized artists of the first half of the 20th century, conducted a continuous reevaluation of his “finished” works in an attempt to “push further and deeper into true painting”. What was he searching for? Solutions: the correct treatment of light, perspective and choice of colors.
From the time he was a student, he established a process of painting repetitive themes, a technique still used today by many artists. You learn to perfect your work by copying the masters. Matisse applied this technique to his own art, as well as that of artists that preceded him, and his contemporaries.
He used his finished paintings as a tool to measure his artistic development. This explains the need to repeat the same themes and pictorial structures, using different techniques, styles and colors.
Between 1900 and 1910, repetition characterized the work of Matisse. We can see it, for example, in works like Young Sailor I and Young Sailor II (1906), or Le Luxe I and Le Luxe II (1907 and 1908), respectively.
HENRI MATISSE. 1. Young Sailor I, 1906. / 2. Young Sailor II, 1906.
HENRI MATISSE. 1. Le Luxe I, 1907. / 2. Le Luxe II, 1907-08.
A second important period in the work of Matisse comes after 1916 – 1917. We find a fundamental change of focus: the artist abandons the limitations of painting in pairs, and begins a series driven by eroticism: Laurette with a green mantle (1916), Laurette sitting on a pink chair (1916), Meditation (a portrait of Laurette) (1916-1917). During this time, his interest in impressionism is renewed.
A third period comes after 1930. Matisse hires a photographer to document the progress of certain paintings. The results could have surprised him but served as a great stimulus.
“In December 1945, six new paintings by Matisse were exhibited at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. Each was juxtaposed with large framed photographs that documented their evolution. Matisse took advantage of the opportunity to put his process on the screen and, in doing so, dispelled the notion that his work was spontaneous. He insisted that the only point of the exhibition was to present ‘the progressive development of the artworks through their various respective states toward definitive conclusions and precise signs’. By agreeing to make the photographs public, Matisse tacitly acknowledged that their presence added to the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of his work”. Matisse was aware that the process is a part of the work of art as important as the finished canvas.
HENRI MATISSE. 1. Sculpture and Vase of Ivy, 1916. / 2. Sculpture and Vase of Ivy, 1916-17.
In the last years of his life, he underwent a process of rediscovery and amazement with possibilities and progress, which had informed his work throughout his artistic career.
In 1948, an optimistic Matisse writes to his son about his latest works, which would be displayed the following year in New York: Interior with an Egyptian Curtain, Black Interior with Fern, Big Red Interior.
There are 49 canvases on display in Matisse: In Search of True Painting. The museum will dedicate three walls to the works displayed at the Galerie Maeght in France in 1945, showed with the photographs that accompanied that exhibition. ■