By Alison Smith
In bygone days we knew who our Bank Manager was. Nowadays we take money from a machine and pay money into a machine. If we want a statement or to make a payment we (yes, you guessed it) do it via a machine (computer, phone etc) After more then 20 years of doing business with the Rabobank I have a contact name but I no longer have what I would call a Bank Manager. Given that I didn’t think my Bank even knew where to find me, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to an evening preview of the new Matisse exhibition “De Oase van Matisse” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I couldn’t have been more delighted to accept this invitation as I find Matisse one of the more fascinating artists of 19th and 20th century.
I think the reason I find Matisse so interesting is because of his artistic journey. He lived to be 84 and, having started painting when he was 20, he spent more than 60 years developing his vision and experimenting with new mediums. Those 65 years were perhaps some of the most exciting and fast moving times in the world of modern art. Sometimes he was at the forefront of a new artistic movement such as Fauvism, other times he was influencing as well as learning from his contemporaries such as Derain and Cezanne. Henri Matisse cannot be labelled as belonging to just one particular movement, except perhaps to say he was a leading figure in the development of modern art. As well as being a painter, Matisse was a sculptor and printmaker, textile designer and collage maker with his concentration on the expression of colour being the common theme.
The Stedelijk exhibition “De Oase van Matisse” follows Matisse’s artistic journey and places him side by side with his contemporaries and next to other, later, artists where his influence is clear. The Stedelijk uses a lot of works from its own collection but has also borrowed works from all over the world to make it more complete. There are more than 100 works in the exhibition, and it offers a unique opportunity to see Matisse in a more complete way and learn more about this enigmatic artist.
Starting with his early works, still life and portraiture, which is how many artists begin, we can compare his ‘Woman Reading’ (1894) with Manet’s work and see how Matisse very quickly develops his own style. His Fauvist paintings are displayed alongside those of Kees van Dongen, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck , and the exhibition follows his forays into cubism and expressionism placing his work alongside that of Chagall, Picasso and Kirchner. The exhibition also suggests the influence of some of his abstract works on such artists as Mondriaan, Malevich and Rothko.
The most surprising part of the exhibition for me was his work with textiles. Matisse created many designs for ecclesiastical robes and these are on display. Easy to miss but at the end of exhibition there is a room with a huge cinema screen where you can watch footage of Matisse, by now an old man, expertly cutting out his gouache shapes with a huge pair of dressmakers’ scissors. He gives the finished cuttings to his assistant who, following his instructions meticulously, pins them to the wall of his room. He sits and contemplates the effect and makes minute changes to the angle or position. He would mount the whole design on his wall until he was satisfied for it to be made into the final work, either to be mounted as a collage, or as a design for a robe.
Of course, the piece de resistance is the enormous work ‘La perruche et la sirène’ (1952 – gouache on paper, cut and pasted) It measures 7.68 m x 3.4m and takes up a whole wall of the exhibition and is one of the greatest examples of Matisse’s cutout art. It was created after a period of illness when Matisse was confined to his room and he referred to it as “a little garden all around me where I can walk”
The way the exhibition is laid out tells a flowing story and shows how Matisse was always on the innovative edge of the next new art movement, culminating with his work in cut outs and textiles, where he went far beyond any other artist of his time.
….And bravo to the Rabobank for sponsoring such an excellent exhibition.
(The exhibition can be visited at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam from 27/3/2015 – 16/8/2015)
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