The Museum of Modern Art’s latest excursion into the history of modern art via its stunning collection is “Matisse: The Red Studio,” a small but stunning exhibition explaining one of the artist’s greatest early paintings.
This show brings together – for the first time since they left the artist’s studio in the Parisian suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux – all of the surviving works depicted by Henri Matisse in “The Red Studio,” a painting whose seductive radicalism has drawn fans ever since entered the museum’s collection in 1949.
Collect six paintings, three sculptures and a ceramic plate in “The Red Studio” It turned into a marvel of detective work on the part of the teams in charge of it, chaired by Anne Timken, Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, and Dorothy Agsen, who has roughly the same title at SMK, the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen. Her loans come from museums and private collections near and far – including three from SMK – some of which have never been shown before. Of these, a small but powerful terra cotta figure little is known about, although the MoMA owns a bronze cast of it.
The exhibition is a careful examination of the inner and outer life of a single painting set in a remarkably spacious setting where each life gets its own large gallery. In the first, “The Red Studio” appears with the works depicted by him, which summarize the early development of the artist. In the second exhibition, there are quite a few documents, murals, and murals that trace the painting’s journey from Matisse’s studio to the Museum of Modern Art – including an extended stop at a glamorous London nightclub. But there is plenty of artwork that shows how interior and studio appearances, red and the use of monochrome were repeated in Matisse’s later work, culminating in his 1948 ‘Big Red Interior’, the last painting he completed before the color was freed from canvas. in his paper Cutters.
The Red Studio was completed in December 1911. Describing it to the Russian textile merchant Sergei Shchukin, who had entrusted Matisse with his patronage, and whose patronage enabled Matisse to build the studio, the artist wrote: “The painting was surprising at first. It is clearly new.” (Many found them to be very fresh, especially for their shocking color. They were among the works most denounced by critics and visitors alike at the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in London in 1912 and at the 1913 Historic Arms Exposition, seen in New York, Chicago and Boston .)
Whether Shchukin, who An impressive collection of early 20th century modern art It included 37 Matisses and the state would confiscate it after the Russian Revolution, whether it agreed or not, it was lost to history. Either way, he refused to buy it. Instead, this unique painting remained in the West. In modern times, it provided a sort of polar opposite of Picasso’s uniquely brutalist painting, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” of 1907, which entered the collection a decade earlier, in 1939.
This means that the painting was essentially free, in a cultural sense, to evoke, influence and inspire the present and to become a part of history. It foreshadows one of the staples of post-war modernism – monochrome or one-color painting – and arrived in New York at a time when many painters were getting their abstract expressionist pieces in order. You can feel it in Barnett Newman’s glowing red “Vir Heroicus Sublimis” (“Man, Heroic and Sublime”) from 1950-51, and in some of Mark Rothko’s dark, glowing blocks.
The obvious novelty of “The Red Studio” lies in the extent of its dominant color: most of its surface is covered in Venetian red, a deep and luxurious albeit slightly rusty color, pushing the entire scheme towards abstraction. Yet the board is full of facts. It’s kind of a statement of a corner of Matisse’s newly built studio.
It is also an expression of the artist’s values. The objects most important to Matisse – from paintings and sculptures to an open box of pastel blue – are depicted here in their true colors. But most of the monumental elements of the painting—two tables, two chairs, a chest of drawers, and a grandfather’s clock whose face lacks hands, as if time were standing still in the artist’s studio—look almost like ghosts: they are present only as ocher stripes in the painting. A block of red, bright here, and thus little glimpses of pink and blue, are a fine relic of an earlier version of the painting.
For Matisse, the studio was where the real world receded, where magic could be made and art ruled. Once he grasped what Fauvism had to teach about natural light and pure color, Matisse didn’t get out much. He was primarily an artist for interiors and especially in the studio: the spaces in which he lives and works, drawing portraits, working from live models, sometimes including views from the windows, and sometimes simply photographing the rooms themselves.
In the first exhibition, the Red Studio is surrounded by the works it depicts, which encircle it somewhat like a flotilla of boats around the mother ship. It is a unique experience to stand in the middle of the gallery and look back and forth from the actual works to their photography, as the fantastic distiller of reality further distills his own images.
In 1898’s glamorous little “Corsica, the Old Mill,” the influence of pointillism and its genius of color is evident in the extravagant mottled shade of pink, purple, and gray on a stone wall. In “The Red Studio”, where this palette is on the floor, the shadow turns into a soft purple.
Matisse’s fondness for bold colors merges into large flat shapes such as navy blue and green on pink from the original version of “Young Sailor II” (1906). The magnificent “Le luxe (II)” (1907) is much more subtle, but recreated in “The Red Studio” is electric in colour. Its three faded colors turn into a Venetian red.
New York this season has had more than its share of big and grueling exhibitions, among them the Cézanne and Joseph Joacomb performances of the Museum of Modern Art and the Survey of Surrealism of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seeing them was such a challenge that I walked out feeling overwhelmed, and kept on blushing and wondering “Who is this for?” Professionals who are at least 5 feet 10 and run marathons? In contrast, “Matisse: The Red Studio” gives you fewer artworks but allows for a deeper focus. You come away feeling good, like you got a gift.
Matisse: red studio
Open May 1 through September 10, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, (212) 708-9400; moma.org. Currently in member previews.