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Henri Matisse – The Colour of Ideas – Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou

Henri Matisse – The Colour of Ideas – Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris

30 June – 16 October 2022

The exhibition realised in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and opening in the Museum of Fine Arts in July 2022 is the first representative show featuring Henri Matisse’s art in Hungary. The more than one hundred and fifty works arranged into eight chronological-thematic sections range from the artist’s early compositions to his pieces from the 1950s and explore issues central to his oeuvre, such as the relationship between line and colour and connections between interiors and figures.

The exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts also highlights the diversity of genres in Matisse’s oeuvre since besides almost 30 paintings, the exhibited material contains original graphic sheets (with a special focus on artist’s books and cover designs) and 17 sculptures. One of the sections is solely devoted to masterpieces from the artist’s late period: the monumental designs he made for the stained glass windows of the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary, Vence. The exhibition catalogue contains studies by foreign and Hungarian authors as well as a selection from Matisse’s writings, a significant part of which has been published in Hungarian translation for the first time.

The exhibition takes visitors on a chronological journey through the main periods of Matisse’s oeuvre. The early years, defined by looking for his own artistic voice, were followed by his spectacular paintings of pure colour, finding which was the main aim of his fauve period. His pieces produced during World War I have a reduced language of form and balance on the verge of abstraction, while the light-infused interiors of his “Nice period” were followed by years of experimentation in the 1930s. After his “Vence interiors”, which can be called the summary of his painting oeuvre, Matisse almost exclusively produced cut-outs using gouache and paper, in which he explored one of the central problems of his oeuvre, the harmony between colour and line, in a new context. This question was then addressed on a monumental scale in the chief masterpiece of his late period: the total art work he created for the Chapel of the Rosary, Vence. The second version of the designs he made for the chapel’s stained glass windows is one of the centrepieces of our exhibition. The diversity of mediums in which Matisse worked is illustrated by the display of sculptures, original graphic sheets, prints and applied graphic works as well as his artist’s book Jazz besides his paintings. In addition to the “lightness” manifest in harmonies of resplendent colours, light and forms – which the artist strove to achieve throughout his art – visitors can get an insight into the fundamental questions of his oeuvre pertaining to space and plane, interior and figures, as well as colour and line. The exhibition also throws light on Matisse’s work method of revisiting and reinventing themes through variations of motifs – including windows marking the boundary between inner and outer space, objects in his studio, portraits and female figures – arranged in sequences. The exhibition demonstrates how the colour of ideas – a phrase attributed to Matisse by Louis Aragon – took shape in the course of Matisse’s almost sixty-year-long oeuvre through continually renewing colour chords and linear rhythms.

  1. Early years, 1895–1909

When talking about the beginning of his career, Matisse admitted that he had already sensed then that he did not paint like others, and felt “like someone who arrived in a country where he cannot speak the language”. Studying at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Gustave Moreau he frequently went to the Louvre, partly to learn the artistic language of the Old Masters, and partly to find his own artistic voice. One of his masterpieces from the turn of the century Self-Portrait (Autoportrait) from 1900 clearly attests to his complex approach to the (old) masters. After two inspiring trips – he visited Paul Signac in Saint-Tropez in 1904, and André Derain in Collioure in 1905 – Matisse definitively committed himself to colour. His early period ended with Luxury I (Le Luxe I, 1907), in which he synthesised the results of his research into line and colour.

  1. Fractures and windows, 1910–1917

In 1910 a period of experimentation hallmarked by a radical use of the means of painterly expression began in Matisse’s art. The main works, exceptional displayed here side by side – Glass Door in Collioure (Porte-Fenêtre à Collioure) and White and Pink Head (Tête blanche et rose) from 1914 – brilliantly demonstrate the avant-garde experiments of the artist, who often visited the studios of Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Gino Severini as well as the members of the Section d’Or group of painters during World War I.

  1. Sculptures, 1909–1930

“I took up sculpture because what interested me in painting was a clarification of my ideas. I changed my method, and worked in clay in order to have a rest from painting where I had done all I could for the time being.” In his famous lines addressed to Pierre Courthion, Matisse expressed the importance of sculpture as a counterpoint in his art. While he respected the traditions of the genre, in modelling the human figure he followed an unexpected and new path. One of his masterpieces, The Back series (Nu de dos), executed between 1909 and 1930, demonstrates a brand new concept of monumentality and stylisation of form.

  1. Figures and interiors, 1918–1929

Matisse painted numerous interiors during his long career, including the 1920s, which he spent in Nice and sought to continuously develop the lessons he had drawn from his painting and the inventions he had come up with up to then. This is especially well exemplified by Odalisque with Red Culottes (Odalisque à la culotte rouge, 1921): in this painting the room appears like a real moving stage, which the artist decorated with tapestries and decorative fabrics, and which, to borrow the words of the poet Dominique Fourcade, works like a “box of light”.

  1. Modernist experiments, 1930–1946

Matisse’s travels in the United States in 1930 and to Tahiti essentially transformed his creative method: the inspirations he drew from these new locations led him to a real modernist turn in his oeuvre. In this period his dearest muse and model was Lydia Delectorskaya. One of his first paintings of Lydia, Seated Pink Nude (Nu rose assis, 1935–1936) clearly bears the marks of his new work method, which included scraping off paint, repainting details, wiping parts and simplification.

  1. From Nice to Vence, 1938–1948

After settling in Vence in Southern France, in the early 1940s Matisse talked about the second “flourishing” of his art. His masterly series, collectively referred to as the “Vence interiors”, must be viewed in the context of this statement. Its outstanding piece titled Interior in Yellow and Blue (Intérieur jaune et bleu, 1946) can also be seen at our exhibition. Through the repeating motives of these paintings Matisse not only shed new light on the problem of colour and line, which accompanied his entire oeuvre, but he also redefined the possible relations between colour and space. This period also marked the artist bidding farewell to panel paintings.

  1. Chapel of the Rosary, Vence, 1948–1951

From 1948 Matisse devoted all his time to his last large-scale decoration of the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, the dedication of which was in 1951. He used models cut-out from paper for the design of the small space (barely 15 metres long and 9 metres wide), and treated the project as a total work of art. This decorative work completed two years before his death crowns his oeuvre, while reinventing contemporarily held concepts of monuments.

  1. Paper cut-outs and late works, 1937–1954

At the end of his life, besides creating in other genres, Matisse tirelessly continued drawing and passionately worked on developing an entirely new method, the gouache paper cut-outs. Sheets of paper were first painted with gouache, then various shapes were cut out and arranged into compositions. As a peak of his oeuvre he managed to harmonise line and colour, of which he said even in 1941 that they were “constantly at war”. Could he have referred to this when he stated that he managed to give painting “a new start”? “Is it pretentious? Maybe, But why not?”

The large-scale exhibition was realised in cooperation with the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne treasures the most valuable Matisse collection in France, with its core material dating back to the end of World War II and having been continuously augmented since 1970. Since the beginning of the intensive acquisition period the institution has been striving – with the generous support of the Matisse family – to build a collection that presents the oeuvre of one of the most influential artists of modern art on as wide a spectrum as possible.

2021 was and 2022 has been among the most intensive and successful periods for the Museum of Fine Arts: the exhibition Cezanne to Malevich, which opened last October, ran through mid-February this year and Between Hell and Paradise. The Enigmatic World of Hieronymus Bosch opened this April, while after the Matisse exhibition, the Museum of Fine Arts will be the venue for a comprehensive El Greco exhibition.

 Curators of the exhibition:

Aurélie Verdier, art historian at the Centre Pompidou

and Dávid Fehér, art historian at the Museum of Fine Arts.


Partners: Air France, Hilton Garden Inn Budapest City Center and Porsche Hungária



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