The Royal Academy presents an exhibition which explores the relationship between Henri Matisse and some of his most treasured objects. The exhibition considers how these items played an important role in his work and how it influenced the development of the artist’s art.
Whilst Matisse was firmly within the Western art tradition, the objects in his collection provided influences from the far corners of the world. Buddhist statuary from Thailand, Bamana figures from Mali, furniture and textiles from North Africa provided the backdrop to his studio in which objects could be used in different guises across decades.
Each section of the exhibition presents the interplay of objects with paintings and drawings. Matisse’s Lilacs 1914 illustrates how the small object of a nude is included in a still life painting.
Matisse often saw objects as actors playing various parts in a variety of media, one of his favourite objects was a nineteenth century Venetian rocaille chair which stands in the exhibition in front of a series of paintings and drawings.
The exhibition provides plenty of evidence that Matisse was greatly influenced by African art and this provided a vehicle to reinvent the way that nudes were represented with a simplified and disproportionate bodies. The exhibition features of Bamana figures from Mali which illustrate this point.
Matisse also began to use African art and in particular African masks to influence his attitude to portraiture. The Italian Woman 1916 shows a woman with almost a mask like face.
Matisse often adorned his Nice studio with props from the Islamic world to create the sensuous sets for his ‘odalisques’, often these paintings included a reclining female model in front of a very decorative background. Matisse was keen to point out that the subject in the painting and the background were of equal importance.
In Matisse’s later years, he entered what is known as his cut-out period, he was inspired by the concise precision of Chinese calligraphy and African textiles to create his own simple way of bringing different forms together.
This fascinating exhibition offers an opportunity to understand elements of the creative process and how an artist’s personal collection can inspire paintings, sculptures and drawings. Part of this process was not imitation but understanding how different cultures have created their own images in many different ways. From this Matisse developed his own particular method which brings many of the influences together.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Video Review available here
£15.50 full price (£14 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.
For more information , visit the Royal Academy website here
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