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How Henri Matisse’s collection of curiosities inspired his art

a photo of an African mask

Muyombo mask, Pende region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 19th-early 20th century, Wood, fiber and pigment, 49 x 19.3 cm. Former collection of Henri Matisse. Private collection. Photograph by Jean-Louis Losi

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.

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.

a painting of a young woman with lobg dark hair and an exposed midrift

Henri Matisse, The Italian Woman, 1916 Oil on canvas, 116.7 x 89.5 cm The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. By exchange, 1982, 82.2946 Photo © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation/Art Resource, NY © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017

a photo of two figures carved in wood

Jomooniw male and female figures, Bamana region, Mali, 19th-early 20th century. Wood and metal, H. 40.5 cm, H. 43.3 cm. Former collection of Henri Matisse. Private collection. Photograph by Robert Monnier

a photo of a blue glass vase with two handles

Vase, Andalusia, Spain, early 20th century Blown glass, 28.5 x 21 cm. Former collection of Henri Matisse. Musée Matisse, Nice. Bequest of Madame Henri Matisse, 1960, 63.2.195. Photo © François Fernadez, Nice

a painting of a vase of flowers on a table next to a window with view out across an ocean

Henri Matisse, Safrano Roses at the Window, 1925 Oil on canvas, 80 x 65 cm Private collection Photo © Private collection © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017

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.

a photo of carved models of two people embracing

Henri Matisse, Two Women, modelled 1907-8, cast 1908. Bronze, 46.6 x 25.6 x 19.9 cm. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966. Photograph by Lee Stalsworth © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017

Henri Matisse, Gourds, Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1915-16. Oil on canvas, 65.1 x 80.9 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, 109.1935. Photo © Archives H. Matisse © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017

a photo of a metal coffee pot with a wooden handle

Unknown, Coffee Pot, France, early 19th Century. Silver, handle in wood, 14 x 10.9 x 10.9 cm. Musée Matisee, Nice. Photo © François Fernandez, Nice

a colour sketch with brown and green shapes

Henri Matisse, Still Life with Shell, 1940. Gouache, coloured pencil, and charcoal on cut paper, and string, pinned to canvas, 83.5 x 115 cm. Private collection. Photo © Private collection © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017

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.

a photo of an embroidered hanging

Haiti, North Africa, late 19th-early 20th century. Cotton plainweave cut and appliquéd to bast fiber cloth, 217 x 212 cm. Former collection of Henri Matisse. Private collection, on loan to Musée Matisse, Nice Photo © François Fernandez, Nice.

a painting of two women in a drawing room

Henri Matisse, The Moorish Screen, 1921. Oil on canvas, 91 x 74 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bequest of Lisa Norris Elkins, 1950. Photo © Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

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…









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