The Royal Academy lines up major exhibition exploring the objects Henri Matisse collected in his studio and the artworks they inspired
Henri Matisse’s much prized and eclectic collection of studio objects ranged from a Roman torso, African masks and Chinese porcelain to common vases, a chocolate pot and intricate North African textiles from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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Selected primarily for their aesthetic appeal, this menagerie of objects comprised not of rare pieces – or even the finest examples of the traditions to which they belonged – but was of profound significance to Matisse’s creative process and fed into many of his artworks.
Matisse continuously returned to his collection throughout his working life – reconsidering the objects, depending on the pictorial environment into which they were placed.
In 1951 he said “I have worked all my life before the same objects… The object is an actor. A good actor can have a part in ten different plays; an object can play a role in ten different pictures.”
This vital collection of creative stimuli travelled with Matisse wherever he went – even to his temporary residences – and his letters to family members often include requests for objects to be moved from Paris to Nice.
35 precious objects displayed alongside the artworks they inspired
Accordingly, the objects return again and again in his pictures and sculptures and the Royal Academy’s exhibition, developed in Association with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in partnership with the Musée Matisse in Nice, shows 35 of these precious objects alongside 65 of the paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and cut-outs they inspired.
Most of the objects have travelled from the Musée Matisse in Nice, with several others coming from private collections. Many of them are being publicly exhibited outside France for the first time.
Five thematic sections explore this relationship between object and artwork, with the artist’s favourites – like the simple pewter jug, an Andalusian glass vase or the chocolate pot given to Matisse as a wedding present, reappearing under varying guises in several works created over an extended period of time – including Safrano Roses at the Window, 1925 and Still Life with Shell, 1940.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, African sculpture emerges as an important element in Matisse’s collection of objects with these pieces of ‘exotica’ helping him to achieve radical innovations in portraying the human figure.
His portraiture drew on his collection of African masks whose motifs and ideas emphasised the simplification of human features
A number of Matisse’s sculptures are included in the exhibition including as Two Women, 1907-8, together with Bamana figural sculptures from Mali and a statue of the goddess Nang Thorani from Thailand, as well as contemporary photography.
Similarly his portraiture, in which he sought to convey the character of his sitters without always resorting to a physical likeness, drew on his collection of African masks whose motifs and ideas emphasised the simplification of human features.
Matisse’s Nice interiors from the 1920s reveal how he increasingly relied on his collection of props from the Islamic world, while the famous cut-outs of his later career – in which he invented a language of simplified signs to produce some of his most vibrant and spectacular work – were inspired by objects like his Chinese calligraphy panel and African kuba textiles.
An intimate insight into studio life and artistic practice, this is also a chance to see how a collection of objects played a pivotal role in the development of Matisse’s masterful vision of colour and form.
Matisse in the Studio is at the Royal Academy from August 1 — November 12 2017. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
Royal Academy of Arts
London, Greater London
The Royal Academy of Arts was founded by George III in 1768. Governed by artists to 'promote the arts of design' and was the first institution in Great Britain devoted solely to the promotion of the visual arts. The Royal Academy raised the standing of art, artists and architecture. It…