The rivalry between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso is one of the most important stories of modern art, and the subject of the NGA’s major exhibition Matisse & Picasso. Drawn from some 40 important international collections, Matisse & Picasso shows how these two pioneers of Modern Art both shared the need to confront the challenges set by the paintings of Paul Cézanne and mined each other’s work to enhance their own.
In the early twentieth century Picasso became a colossus of Modern Art. Many of the younger generation of avant-garde artists who had initially been inspired by Matisse and Fauvism turned to Picasso for inspiration. Over the years he explored the seemingly endless stylistic possibilities for art of the modern era. Revered and emulated, for much of his career Picasso appeared like an immovable object that blocked every move forward for art’s pathway. Others could only follow suit. The exception was Matisse.
Matisse & Picasso begins with the young Picasso settling in Paris, where he was determined to make a name for himself. Taking radical steps towards Cubism, Picasso confronted the older Matisse who was then renowned as the radical leader of the Fauves. The exhibition ends with Picasso’s artistic response to Matisse’s death. Mourning the loss of this most significant figure, Picasso acknowledged the immense stylistic influence Matisse had on his own artistic career.
Despite Picasso’s competitive bravado and resistance, Matisse’s creativity enticed, disturbed and ruffled him. The large paintings Matisse made in the first decade of the twentieth century relating to music and dance proved irresistible for Picasso. Enticing and seductive in their brilliant palette, Matisse’s beauty of line and decorative qualities, his blending of forms and their surrounds showed Picasso a way out of the self-imposed confines he had set himself with the tiny brushstrokes, limited palette and static forms of Analytic Cubism. For Picasso, when Matisse was at his most dynamic his art was radical and his talent was dangerous.
This exhibition follows the paths these two artists took over decades as they responded to the other’s work. No one was more watchful of Matisse’s art than Picasso and vice versa. Both explored pictorial issues in unique ways, but always remained on guard while looking over their shoulder at the other. Both Matisse and Picasso felt the absolute necessity to acknowledge and absorb the concept and skill of each other.
Matisse & Picasso Exhibition
13 December 2019 – 13 April 2020
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra