This autumn’s Matisse exhibition at Louisiana presents a new approach to Matisse’s oeuvre and turns the focus on the late works. The curator of the exhibition is Hanne Finsen, the internationally acknowledged Matisse expert and former director of the Ordrupgaard Collection in Denmark – and the exhibition has been organized by Louisiana in collaboration with the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, where – before coming to Louisiana – it was shown until 17th July 2005 with great success and with more than 325,000 visitors coming through the turnstiles. The design of the exhibition is by the architect Elisabeth Topsoe.
“Une seconde vie”, a second life, was what Henri Matisse called the last fourteen years of his life, the time from his serious operation in 1941 until his death in the autumn of 1954. For Matisse these years were a true gift: he felt that the operation gave him an extra life, and despite physical weakness and advanced age this last phase of his life was characterized by immense energy and productivity. This unexpected new lease of life led to an extraordinary burst of expression, the culmination of half a century of work, but also to a radical renewal that made it possible for him to create what he had always struggled for: “I have needed all that time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say.”
The most beautiful correspondence of the 20th century – Matisse and André Rouveyre
Louisiana’s exhibition also tells the story of a significant friendship. In the years 1941-1954 Matisse engaged in a unique correspondence with the French satirical draughtsman and writer André Rouveyre (1879-1962), in which his ongoing production and innovation are reflected and refracted.
Matisse and Rouveyre met as young students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the end of the 1890s, but the courses of their lives quickly became very different, and their paths diverged to a great extent over the subsequent years. Only when they coincidentally met again during the war, after Matisse’s operation, did their close friendship develop. Despite the conspicuous differences between them, Rouveyre, as is evident from the correspondence, came to follow Matisse’s working process at close quarters.
The correspondence stands out from all others in its extent and frequency – for long periods they wrote to each other daily, sometimes several times a day – and in its abundance of drawings, sketches and decorated envelopes by Matisse. The letters, which are typified by intimacy and irresistible humour, speak of both the events of everyday life and Matisse’s work and thus provide us with unique insight into the artist’s creative process and his thoughts on his life and work.
In 2001 Hanne Finsen edited the whole of this extensive correspondence – some 1200 letters – for the prestigious French publisher Flammarion. Matisse’s letters in the correspondence are today in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and it is this milestone publication that forms the backbone for the selection of works in the exhibition. The idea of the exhibition is to present the works mentioned in the letters in tandem with the reflections that bear them up. The idea of juxtaposing the correspondence of a great
artist with the works mentioned there in an exhibition has never been tried before, but in Matisse’s case
it seems an obvious and fruitful approach.
Letters and works alternate, and the exhibition unfolds chronologically with the correspondence forming the narrative backbone. With about 150 works from many museums and private collections all over the world, it covers all aspects of Matisse’s oeuvre: paintings, illustrated books, drawings, tapestries, sketches for the chapel at Vence and a selection of the small and very large coloured paper cut-outs which marked a striking new departure in Matisse’s work.
Some of the first projects he plunged into after his convalescence were illustrations of books like the Florilège des Amours de Ronsard followed by the Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans, which are included in
the exhibition with their preliminary studies, and in the latter case a uniquely beautiful maquette which has never been exhibited before. They enjoy an important position in the artist’s oeuvre of the later years, and the design of both books was discussed in depth with Rouveyre, who was a knowledgeable bibliophile and an expert on literature. In the correspondence we can also follow how Rouveyre and Matisse collaborated on several publications, above all Rouveyre’s novel Repli and his Apollinaire, which can also be seen in the exhibition.
Rouveyre was also the privileged recipient of an important letter from Matisse at the beginning of June 1943 about “the birth of a tree in the mind of an artist”. It says a great deal about Matisse’s thinking, his efforts to emancipate his art from the imitative western tradition and instead to give expression only to
his emotions and sense of enchantment as in Oriental art. The letter was originally accompanied by 21 drawings of trees, exhibited here for the first time – along with a couple of early drawings from 1939
and studies in a very large format of trees from 1951-52, done on the basis of the 21 small drawings.
Of course there was not the same close contact between the two friends when it came to Matisse’s painting, The subjects are still interiors, still lifes and portraits, and it has been possible to gather
important examples of his virtuoso painting from the late years for the exhibition.
After his convalescence was over, he went to work energetically on drawings, which led, in his own words, to a formidable “flowering” of his draughtsmanship. He was fully aware of the results he had achieved and decided to collect the drawings in a book, Thèmes et variations, published in 1943 with an introduction by Louis Aragon. The exhibition shows a large number of drawings ranging from the early Thèmes et variations series to the late portraits of Matisse’s grandchild Jacqueline Matisse (1947) and the sketches
for the decorations in the chapel at Vence (1948-50).
In the correspondence there is also an extended discussion of the epoch-making book Jazz (1947), where Matisse systematically used the paper cut-out technique for the first time. The book and the concurrently published album with the twenty colour plates, only printed in a hundred copies, and a selection of his original paper cut-outs, are presented in the exhibition along with the four large compositions
L’Océanie, la mer / L’Océanie, le ciel and Polynesie, la mer / Polynesie, le ciel (1946) executed
In time, as Matisse immersed himself more and more in the work with the Vence chapel, which he regarded as his masterpiece, the correspondence thinned out somewhat. Matisse’s letters became more infrequent and shorter. As we can see from the correspondence, the artist did not stop here with his masterpiece. The exhibition thus culminates and ends with the late, monumental paper cut-outs used as templates for the large decorations in ceramics and glass windows that Matisse made shortly before his death.
We have been able to borrow La Gerbe (The Bouquet), 1953 (2.94 x 3.50 m) from the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Lierre en fleur (Flowering Ivy), 1953 (2.85 x 2.85 m) from the Dallas Museum
of Art, both shown now for the first time in Europe, as well as La Perruche et la sirène (The Parrot and the Mermaid), 1952 (3.37 x 7.73 m) from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for the exhibition. Matisse explored the full potential of the paper cut-out and arrived at a simplification and perfection of this formal idiom in these compositions, which covered whole walls.
Jeune femme en blanc, fond rouge, 1946
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, MNAM / CCI
© Succession H. Matisse / CopyDan, 2005 Se billedet i 640 x 480 pixels...