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Matisse in the Studio at the Royal Academy of Arts
August 9, 2017
In art there are a few golden ticket artists that never let a gallery down. The French painter Henri Matisse, best known for his radiant palette, design and sumptuous odalisques, is definitely one of them. But the Royal Academy’s gorgeous new exhibition ‘Matisse in the Studio’ is not resting on its laurels.
Tate may have landed its biggest show to date with the cut-outs in 2014, but the RA has taken a slightly different route for its foray into all things Matisse. Sprinkled through the halls of the Sackler Galleries in Burlington House are the everyday objects that once filled Matisse’s studios in Paris, Nice and Vence; from Islamic textiles to mysterious African reliquaries. By hook or by crook, Matisse gathered this strange array of things to create a magical workplace and to use as the basis of some of his most astonishing works. Miraculously, RA curator Ann Dumas has managed to bring some of these intimate objects face to face with the paintings, drawings and sculptures that they once inspired.
Divided roughly by subject matter, a highlight of the show includes the silver chocolate pot that fellow Fauve painter Albert Marquet gave to Matisse to celebrate his wedding. That same perfectly ordinary chocolate pot found itself smack-bang in the middle of Matisse’s vibrant ‘Bouquet of Flowers in a Chocolate Pot’ just four years later in 1902 (Musée Picasso, Paris). Then there is the African tribal Mboom mask that Matisse bought from artist Maurice de Vlaminck and the Venetian baroque stool that he just had to have. These curious items reappear over and over in Matisse’s work: transformed from the everyday into something a little special.
Matisse was particularly keen on the peculiar masks and reliquaries that flooded the French marketplace from Africa; their exaggerated shape and exotic charm prompting some of his most experimental figures. The angular, brooding painting ‘Standing Nude’ (1906-7) (Tate) perfectly embodies how Matisse was able to combine the African priestess that he saw in colonial treasures with the French courtesan he found in the streets of Paris.
Matisse also crammed his suitcase with an array of Moorish wall hangings and Oriental fabrics during his travels to Morocco. Returning to the studio with a new abundance of raucous colour and pattern in his bag, Matisse created an exotic idyll filled with the sights and sounds of the harem that would become the basis of his sensual concubines. Of course the cut-outs have their part to play in RA the show too (how could they not). The Chinese scrolls and ceramics that littered the studio give an insight into an abstract visual language that defined Matisse’s final years.
Call him a magpie or call him a hoarder – Matisse certainly understood the power of objects and their part to play in his creative life. This show wonderfully offers the chance to step into the studio and imagine what this strange new world would have felt like, surrounded by all manner of things.
By Claire Philips
Matisse in the Studio at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Until 12 September 2017.
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