Matisse: A New Country

The Centre Pompidou, Malaga

€2.50 – €4.00

6/3/19 – 9/6/19

Málaga, Spain

6.5 / 10

Mattise. It’s a household name. But how much do you really know about this experimental artist?

 The Centre Pompidou in Malaga has put on an intriguing exhibition which will leave you yearning to find out more. Covering the development of Matisse’s artistic career, it touches on his most influential styles and periods.

The entrance to the exhibition reveals key dates and information about Matisse’s life. It tells us how in his late career, he began to explore colour with a new objective, becoming experimental in a completely new way. We begin to learn about his biography; how the artist broke away from traditional artistic tutorship, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Gustave Moreau, focussing on artistic freedom. Towards the end of his life, the Matisse became intrigued by sculpture, and was taught by Rodin’s assistant, Antoine Bourdelle. This review is going to examine some of the stand-out works of the exhibition, and how they contribute to the overall success of the show.

Madeline II, 1903

This is a small sculpture with an intensely concentrated expression. The handling of the bronze is rough and ingrained, with the modelling of the artist’s fingers visible in every curve of her body. Despite its heavy-handed appearance, the sculpture is surprisingly delicate. She gazes towards the floor, averting her eyes from the onlooking viewer. It exemplifies the relationship between the male gaze and the female nude, and makes a strong contribution to a concise exhibition.

Self Portrait, 1900

Heavy layers of bright colour somehow come together to create a dark, enigmatic appearance. This is a telling self portrait; it seems to foreshadow the artist’s later obsession with colour, whilst acting as a window into his darker emotions. The artist stands in the centre of the canvas but instead of a strong presence he is but a withering shadow.

Pont Saint Michel, 1900

This work is an insightful exploration of the true value of colour. Expressive brush marks sit beside elements of untouched canvas, creating depth and profundity. The simple joy of light and colour in this painting echo an Impressionist influence, creating a joyous, sumptuous scene.

Back, 1907-8

Indian ink on packing paper has produced this example of Matisse’s experimental use of media. The hard, dark lines create a bold and impactful image which is enhanced by its minimalism.

“I have several paintings in progress. I am as curious about colour as one would be visiting a new country, because I have never concentrated so closely on colour expression. Up to now I have waited at the gates of the temple”

Henri Matisse, 1947

Violinist at the Window, 1918

This later period demonstrates the more classical Matisse style that we know and love. The abstract treatment of the central figure is intentionally two-dimensional, and seeks to explore the limitations of soft colour and simplicity of line, over depth.

Still life with a Green Sideboard, 1928

Echoing Cezanne and other Post Impressionist influences, this work explores depth through the contrast between colour and shade. It was a stand-out work from the exhibition, encapsulating this experimental yet recognisable period of the artist’s career.

Interior in Nice, a Siesta, c.1923

With this painting we can visualise the artist’s change of style after a stay in Nice, France. It is more mellow and tender. During this period he shows a renewed interest in soft light and the female body. Oriental interiors also feature as a recurring theme of this period.

Dancer, 1937

The exhibition includes only includes one example of the Matisse cut-outs. Frankly, it is hard to follow his fascination. I understand the exploration of pure form and solid colour, and the theory that coloured paper allowed the artist to “draw directly in colour”. But personally, I find the final result underwhelming and difficult for the large majority of viewers to enjoy or appreciate. However, cut-outs make up a key part of the artist’s oeuvre and are therefore an important contribution to the show and not to be missed.

 

Interior in Yellow and Blue, 1946, Still Life with a Magnolia, 1941 & Large Red Interior, 1948

These three large paintings conclude the exhibition, and it really goes out with a bang. This later period of Matisse’s life is his most vibrant and energetic. During the war, the artist moved to Vence, near Nice. These Vence interiors focus mainly on still lifes, landscapes, and studio scenes, exploring the unified space between colour and line. This set of three large canvases are my favourite works from the whole exhibition, and give the viewer a much needed dose of abstract colour and excitement.

His use of flattened space and sparingly-painted primary colours are enhanced by the strong black lines throughout each work. His almost childlike manner of filling in the background afterwards creates a playful scene, focussing entirely on the interaction between form and colour. In Large Red Interior, detail and realism are irrelevant to a scene which is perfectly expressed through its most basic elements. For example, the vase of tulips is formed by curvaceous ‘u’ shapes, producing simple yet definite flowers.

Exhibition Summary

‘Matisse: A New Country’ features a  a selection of artworks which highlight his successful artistic exploration. This exhibition really has something for everyone; if, like me, you are not a fan of the cut-outs, you are sure to find something you’ll love. His diverse career is a spectrum of experimentation, with his focus changing from form, to line, to colour across his career. Later in his life, Matisse re-evaluated his knowledge and understating of art, flowing seamlessly into the Modern period of the 1930s.

The curator opted for a neutral pale grey wall colour throughout, which lent itself well to such a varied display. It could be argued that certain key elements of the artist’s career have been brushed over and hurried during the exhibition. Nonetheless, it seems that the curator has chosen to give the viewer a little bit of everything, instead of putting too much focus in one place. This gives the viewer, who may be new to Matisse, an informative summary of his career, and how his style and focus changed throughout his life. The show provides plenty of information, although it is displayed unimaginatively. It is lacking in viewer interaction and liveliness, which could have been remedied by a video or installation. For example, cut-outs are a great way for people to have a go at understanding Matisse’s process, and I really think this is a missed opportunity for audience engagement. Overall, ‘Matisse: A New Country’ was a satisfying exhibition; it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with information, but encourages you to find your Matisse.

Thanks for reading!

The Art Wanderer

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