|Photograph of Henri Matisse by Robert Capa, 1949.|
The curator, Rebecca Rabinow, put together various versions of the same painting or subject so you can compare and contrast them (just like in a typical art history class). We are encouraged to focus on the changes Matisse chose to make and to witness his decision-making process. (And, unlike other blockbusters, this installation is spacious enough so it's possible to view several paintings at the same time without being blocked by other viewers.)
So, for example, on display are one full-scale drawing and two paintings of Matisse’s Le Luxe. The earlier works are not studies; they were created to stand on their own.
|From the left: Henri Matisse, drawing for Le Luxe, 1907, charcoal on paper mounted to canvas, 88 9/16 x 53 15/16 inches; Le Luxe I, 1907, oil on canvas; 82 11/16 x 54 5/16 inches and Le Luxe II, 1907–8, distemper on canvas, 82 1/2 x 54 3/4 inches.|
This is basic stuff, I know, but to see it set out like this is a surprisingly visceral experience. It was trilling to see how color becomes free of solid form allowing it to pulsate, breathe and glow in airy color/space. (And because of the flatness of the shapes, their abstractness, the way they are frontal and pushed up to the picture plane, Le Luxe II takes on a mysterious, allegorical quality.)
A similar development is seen over and over, most instructively in gallery 7 where three paintings are presented with photographs documenting their evolution.
Beginning in the 1930s, Matisse hired the photographer Matossian to document the progress of some of his paintings when Matisse felt they had arrived at a significant stage. According to Matisse's model and studio assistant Lydia Delectorskaya, Matisse would use the photos to evaluate and rework a painting in order to, as he put it, "push further and deeper into true painting."
|Gallery 7 showing Matisse's The Dream, 1940, along with photographs documenting the painting's evolution.|
|Henri Matisse, The Dream, 1940, oil on canvas, 31 ⅞ x 25 ⅝ (private collection).|
|Four of the fourteen photographs documenting The Dream at different stages.|
The evolution of the woman's arms is a good example of Matisse's process. In the earlier work they project forward, out of the picture plane, toward the viewer; in the later work, they are flat vertical oval shapes parallel to the picture plane.
The exhibition reveals Matisse's process in other ways as well. There are several paintings of the Cliffs of Étretat that Matisse made in 1920, along with an early photo of the actual site.
|Henri Matisse, three versions of The Cliffs of Étretat from 1920.|
|Photograph of the Cliffs of Étretat, ca 1906.|
And there's the actual dress worn by Lydia Delectorskaya in Matisse's The Large Blue Dress, 1937. According to the Met's exhibition website, "She made it herself, using silk in the artist's favorite shade of blue and adding a cotton lace-trimmed ruffle to create the illusion of an overskirt." (It's surprising to me that Matisse chose not to go with his "favorite shade of blue," since the blue in the painting is kind of pallid.)
|Blue Dress Gallery|