It’s almost impossible not to be at least a little familiar with Henri Matisse. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in a museum, you are sure to have seen an inexpensive reproduction of one of his colorful canvases somewhere, sometime. An exhibition opening later this month at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts promises to deepen that relationship from passing acquaintance to full-blown love affair. (It also promises a much-needed flood of color to brighten up the chilly gray days of early spring.)
Matisse: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art draws from The Cone Collection, amassed during the 1920s and 1930s by two unmarried sisters with a particular passion for the artist’s work. “They were friends with Gertrude and Leo Stein and met Matisse at Stein’s salon in Paris, where they fell in love with his work,” says curator Erika Holmquist-Wall. “It was an amazing relationship between these two sisters and the undisputed father of 20th-century art.”
Indeed, other than Picasso, Matisse was perhaps the most recognizable and influential artist of his generation. And, like Picasso, he went through several periods and phases during his 60-year career, experimenting with drawing, sculpture, and an ever-evolving approach to the celebrated “purity” of his forms and lines. Bold, bright colors are also a Matisse trademark, and this exhibition—organized chronologically—explores the many innovations in style and method that Matisse employed.
Claribel and Etta Cone were “early adopters” who corresponded regularly with Matisse. They wrote to him, and he wrote back—often sharing details of his artistic undertakings. He even sent them photos of work in progress, including 22 images of his iconic reclining pink nude as it evolved from figurative to abstract. Such historic artifacts provide “an amazing insight to his working process,” says Holmquist-Wall. At the MIA, both The Pink Nude and the photographs will be on display.
In all, the exhibition features more than 80 paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings from every stage of the artist’s career: landscapes, nudes, still-lifes, portraits, and interiors—defined by his unique use of color and deceptively simple form. Also included are prints from Matisse’s book Jazz, which he compiled in his 70s, many of which—for example, The Sword Swallower and The Swimming Pool—have gone on to become iconic posters.
Matisse: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art is easily the biggest MIA show of the year—a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the evolution of 20th-century art. Feb. 23–May 18. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 612-870-3000, artsmia.org