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The paintings in Matisse’s “L’atelier rouge”


When Henri Matisse painted “L’atelier rouge” in Issy-les-Moulineaux in the Paris suburbs in 1911, he did not only let the viewer enter his workspace, with his box of pencils, his ceramic plate and his large -father clock. He also captured tiny versions of his own paintings leaning against the walls and his sculptures perched on stools.

Now, for the first time since they left Matisse’s studio, these works of art will be presented alongside “L’atelier rouge” at the Museum of Modern Art in an exhibition that opens next May. .

“You will see ‘The Red Studio’ and you will also see in real life the paintings and sculptures that he miniaturized and reproduced in the painting itself,” said Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture. from MoMA, co-organizer of the exhibition. . “He’s one of the great artists playing with the concept of art in art, showcasing his own work in his own paintings. He painted an exhibition of his work and we are making it.

Temkin collaborated on the exhibition with Dorthe Aagesen, chief curator and senior researcher at SMK, the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen, who owns three of the paintings – “Le Luxe II” (1907-08), “Nude With a White Scarf ”(1909) and“ Nymphe et Faune ”(1911) After the show closes at MoMA on September 11, 2022, she will visit SMK for four months, starting in October.

“It’s a key to understanding what Matisse was aiming for at this important point in his career,” said Aagesen. “We are reconstructing every movement that led to the creation of this painting.”

This is the first time these works will be shown in a group – the last time they were all together was in Matisse’s studio, when he painted them in this masterpiece.

Of the 11 pieces created between 1898 and 1911 that are pictured in the photo, two are privately owned and will be on display to the public for the first time in over 50 years. One was destroyed several decades ago (“Grand Nu à la Colle”). The other eight are in museum collections in Europe and North America.

Also on display will be paintings and drawings by Matisse relating to “The Red Studio” – namely “The Studio, Quai Saint-Michel” (1917) and “Large Red Interior” (1948) – as well as archival documents such as as photographs, catalogs. , letters and press clippings.

The exhibition illustrates how a generation of academics is moving away from major retrospectives to delve into more focused subjects that pay attention to a specific moment in an artist’s career.

“You don’t want to reassemble things that have been put together,” Temkin said. “You also want to introduce the audience to up close research, to the idea that you can spend a lot of time thinking about a work of art and having a deeper experience. “

The painting was unusual for its time – depicting identifiable objects inundated with a flat monochrome surface of Venetian red, combining the figurative with the abstract and dismantling the illusion of depth.

“He leaves his own artwork to reveal, but everything else in the room is covered in this red,” Temkin said. “It’s a very radical way of representing a three-dimensional space in which he stood as a two-dimensional image, taking a very traditional subject from centuries of art history – the artist’s studio – but creating a space absolutely modern pictorial. “

“Any performance of a studio is by definition a meditation on what you do as an artist,” Temkin added, calling it “a revolutionary moment in the tradition of studio paintings because of the way it transforms this. tradition”.

Red, in this case, was just an afterthought; Matisse finished the painting before deciding to cover it with this color, an evolution revealed by research over the past 20 years. A section of the exhibition will explore this history of conservation.

“He had an entire painting done and then it was a late decision that he would add this red,” Temkin said. “The idea of ​​the artist process is that when you start out you might not know where you are going. You might think so, but the paint takes over – and on some level the artist listens to the paint or follows the paint’s instructions on what to do next. This is an exceptional case of a painting becoming a different painting during manufacture. “

Measuring six feet tall by seven feet wide, the canvas was one of a series of works commissioned by Matisse’s first patron, Sergei Shchukin, a Russian textile businessman, for whom the artist painted his paintings. “Dance” and “Music”.

Still, Shchukin refused to acquire it for unknown reasons (he bought the painting’s predecessor, “The Pink Studio”). “Maybe he told Matisse he preferred his paintings with figures, but at the same time he bought other paintings without figures, so I think he was just being tactful,” Temkin said. . “But if you think about what this painting must have looked like in 1911, you can imagine it was incomprehensible.”

“No one had taken a monochrome photo before,” she added. “Here he jumped into abstraction territory and a color plane in a way that was certainly unrecognizable.”

Matisse therefore kept the painting for over 15 years, during which time he traveled to the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London in 1912 and in New York, Chicago and Boston for the Armory Show of 1913.

“The Red Studio” was finally purchased in 1927 by David Tennant, the founder of the Gargoyle Club in London, where it hung in the Mirrored Ballroom until the early 1940s, after which it was purchased by the Bignou Gallery in New York, then acquired by MoMA in 1949. Finally, in the 1950s, we noticed it.

“This painting which for several decades had not been fully appreciated – the history of art suddenly caught up with it,” Temkin said. “So you’ve got someone like an Ellsworth Kelly or a Mark Rothko or a number of artists in Europe and the United States who see this painting as a landmark. “

“It is a very good example of how the history of art is full of works ahead of their time and which find their place several decades after their completion,” she continued. “It’s exactly the same thing that happened to Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’: they were made in the 1920s and 20s and completely ignored and ridiculed like the work of an old impressionist whose eyesight was no longer very good. . And then, when Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman started creating fields of color, there was interest in “Water Lilies” 30 or 40 years later. “

Although “The Red Studio” was made 110 years ago – and the show has been in the works for four years – Temkin said it had a special resonance in today’s world, when the pandemic hit. elicited reassessment and introspection.

“Here is an artist stepping out of his comfort zone,” said the curator. “It’s Matisse who is trying something he didn’t quite understand. And it is such a model for artistic creation in any field.



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