“Matisse in the Studio” opens at the MFA on April 9 and continues until July 9, 2017, in the Gund Gallery, LG31, and is the first major international exhibition to examine the role that objects from the artist’s personal collection played in his art, demonstrating their profound influence on his creative choices. Henri Matisse (1869–1954) believed that these objects were instrumental, serving both as inspiration and as a material extension of his working process.
Matisse was one of the great artists of the 20th century, known for his extraordinary approach to color and composition. Born in northern France, he studied in Paris and moved frequently during his long career, bringing his personal collection of objects with him from studio to studio, and eventually settling in Nice, in the south of France. While Matisse’s enormous impact on Modern art has been widely acknowledged, his sustained interest in the art of cultures outside of the French tradition in which he was raised has been little explored.
While MFA members can be the first to see “Matisse in the Studio” during Member Preview Days, Tuesday to Saturday, April 4 to 8, 2017, the following is a brief Q & A with Helen Burnham, Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings at the MFA, who is one of the co-curators of the exhibition along with Ann Dumas, curator at the Royal Academy of Arts; and Ellen McBreen, associate professor of Art History at Wheaton College and a prominent Matisse scholar.
I understand that “Matisse in the Studio” is different from other Matisse exhibitions. What makes it unique?
This exhibition contains objects from the artist's studio and personal collection including an Andalusian vase, pewter jug, textiles, and sculptures. Many of these are on loan from the Musée Matisse in Nice, the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, or from private collections.
The exhibition contains approximately 34 paintings, 26 drawings, 11 bronzes, seven cut-outs, three prints, and an illustrated book. The exhibition will also be on view at the Royal Academy in London from August 5 through November 12.
How will the galleries be designed (as far as aesthetics and content)?
All of the walls are a shade of white. There is already so much color in Matisse's artworks; we didn't want to overwhelm them. The walls contain cutouts, which both mirror some of the artworks and allow visitors to peek through to the next room. Many of these spaces are decorated with objects, screens, and textiles. Matisse owned at least a dozen haiti or moucharabiehs, North African cotton textiles.
The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections: “The Object Is an Actor,” “The Nude,” “The Face,” “Studio as Theatre” and “Essential Forms.” There will be a wonderful film at the entrance, which shows the artist at work.
What is your favorite piece in the exhibition?
I love the Phillips Collection's Interior with Egyptian Curtain (featured on the cover of the exhibition catalogue). We are lucky to have the original Egyptian tent curtain that appears in the painting on loan to the exhibition. Another favorite is a lesser-known work, a self-portrait of the artist dated 1906, from the Statens Museum for Kunst. Matisse made only a handful of self-portraits in his lifetime. In this work, he does not show himself with any artist's tools, but is immediately identifiable as an artist.
What do you think visitors will enjoy most about the exhibition?
The mix of both foreign and everyday objects. The exhibition allows viewers to understand the degree to which Matisse appreciated the objects around him.