BWith great artists it is precisely the contradictions that contribute to the complexity of their work. Henri Matisse characterize at least two paradoxes. It was his express goal to create a decorative painting that can be viewed with pleasure. At the same time he was as critical and analytical as he was hard-working painter. The lush happiness, the arabesque-rich exuberance, the emotion of color in the picture space and the real joy in the body that radiate from his works are hard-won, carefully thought-out artistic achievements. His work is preceded by a mixture of relaxed and strict thinking, of letting go, new attempts and strict organization.
Alongside Pablo Picasso, he has become a monstre sacré, the father of modern painting. And like Picasso, he chose Paul Cézanne as his most important role model, who was an equally hard, relentlessly searching worker. Matisse and Cézanne (and with all modernists) asks how the figure or object is represented in space, how the world can be seen in painting, if one no longer wants to depict them in a “lifelike imitation”, according to Matisse? You have to have a vision, an idea of where you want to go, he gives in response. In 1899, not even thirty, he bought “Three Bathers” from Ambroise Vollard, his role model Cézanne. The work, which can be seen right at the beginning of the exhibition as an aesthetic starting point, was to accompany him until 1936. The strong back with pigtails of one of the three bathers seems to protrude from Matisse’s monolithic relief sculptures “Nu de dos”.
His need for color
Between 1909 and 1930 he created four versions, which gradually became more and more schematic until only the essential body structure remained: with a long braid that divided the heavy body into two halves. Another Matisse paradox takes place with the sequence of four bronze reliefs, which were positioned in the Center Pompidou in Paris at the central turning point of the exhibition with a spectacular view of the city. His teacher Gustave Moreau, with whom he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts from 1895, had recognized early on that Matisse would one day “simplify” painting. It is precisely this gradual reduction of the brushwork, then the perspective and the line, down to the colored surfaces of the late silhouette cut-outs (the gouaches découpées) that conceals the complexity of Matisse’s work. It took a life to complete his vision.
On the occasion of the hundred and fiftieth year of birth of Henri Matisse – he was born on December 31, 1869 – it was inevitable for the Museum of Modern Art in the Center Pompidou to come up with a retrospective to celebrate the artist. In order to give the decorative aspect the intellectual backbone that is also inherent in Matisse’s work, the curator Aurélie Verdier has teamed up with the poet and writer Louis Aragon (1897 to 1982). Aragon met Matisse in 1941 after he had fled occupied Paris to Nice. The two artists immediately formed a special friendship. When Aragon was asked to write a portrait of Matisse, he replied: “Yes, if it’s a novel.” Thirty years later, in 1971, he published his two-volume, literary unclassifiable treatise “Henri Matisse, roman” – a mixture of narrative, analytical and biographical texts. “Matisse, like a novel” is now the name of the exhibition, which, in conjunction with this poetic and critical reception, accompanied by the voices of other Matisse exegetes, runs through the work chronologically in nine sections and 230 exhibits.