Matisse, Henri

MATISSE, Henri

1869-1954

Surprisingly while Matisse may be the most recognized name in modern art after Picasso, his graphic work, even today, is not widely known. As one of the most sought-after and highly collected artists of the 20th century it seems curious that this should be the case. One reason may be that color is excluded almost entirely from his graphic work, which would certainly give a collector of his paintings pause. However, closer inspection reveals that Matisse employed graphic techniques to specifically explore the nature of the human figure in a very personal and intimate way, which had important implications for his entire oeuvre. Matisse produced a remarkable series of three etched portraits in 1914 featuring Fanny Galanis, the wife of a close friend and fellow artist. In Fanny de Face, he employs a narrow, vertical format in the Japanese style. The immediacy and naturalism achieved with such brevity of detail is a testament to his grasp of the potential of etching from the very beginning. Sketched directly onto the etching plate, Matisse was known to favor working as quickly as possible to capture the essence of his subject. This plate would have been completed in three to five minutes according to contemporary accounts by close associates of the artist.

Unlike Picasso who would single-handedly transform printmaking techniques at intervals throughout his career, Matisse was content to adhere to traditional methods. It was the subject rather than the medium, which was the catalyst for his life-long interest in printmaking. Noted Matisse scholar Margrit Hahnloser points out, “His models were not made in accordance with the classical idea of beauty although he frequently referred to them. He distorted figures to enhance the expressive power of a picture, making them serve the synthesis of the composition.” Upside Down Nude on Checkered Background (1929) illustrates this observation admirably: Crouching and twisting yet perfectly balanced, Matisse utilizes one long sinuous line to unite her foot, calf, buttocks, back and elbow. The simple yet elegant backdrop of open cross-hatching emphasizes the sensuous and liquid character of the model to maximum effect.

It seems clear, that for Matisse, printmaking was a natural extension and a further refinement of his passionate and abiding dialogue with the model. “What interests me most is neither still life, nor landscapes, but the human figure,” explained the artist in 1908 in one of his first public statements on art. “The model, for others, is a piece of information. In my case it is something, which arrests me. It is the source of my energy.” In 1927 the first volume of lithographs by Matisse was published. Entitled Ten Dancers, it featured different poses by Henriette, the model who came to embody dance for the artist. In Standing Dancer, Leaning, “she is presented in delicately graduated tones of light and shade. The tutu breaks the flow of the body’s lines, extending decoratively into the room but, suggesting the dynamics of dance in the flying material.”

Individual, intuitive and irrepressible Matisse’s graphic work has only recently been the object of serious scholarly research. With new monographs and exhibitions devoted to this facet of his creativity, his prints will surely receive the much wider audience they deserve. Like his contemporary Picasso, Matisse continues to delight and surprise us with each new aspect of his art we make the time to consider.

Art Institute of Chicago

Baltimore Museum of Art

Brown University Art Gallery

Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio

Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

Dallas Museum of Art, Texas

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Guggenheim Museum, New York

Harvard University Art Museums

Hermitage Museum, Russia

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC

Indiana University Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Kunst Indeks Danmark

Kunsthaus, Zurich

Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Matisse Museum, Nice

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota

Musée de Grenoble, France

Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux

Musée Matisse, Le Cateau, France

Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Museums of Geneva, Switzerland

National Galleries of Scotland,

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Australia

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

National Gallery, London, UK

National Museums of Wales

Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Royal Museum of Art, Belgium

Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri

San Diego Museum of Art, California

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California

State Museums of Copenhagen

State Museums of Florence

Tate Gallery, London, UK

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

University of Chicago Museum of Art

University of Oxford Museum of Art

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