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Fiercely competitive, Matisse and Picasso engaged in one of the most formidable artistic dialogues of this century. The intense begining of the relationship between the two artists -- from the time they met in 1906 until 1917, when Matisse left for Nice -- has already been amply studied, but their continuous exchange during the second part of their careers has never been examined in detail. Matisse and Picasso, Yve-Alain Bois stages the intertwined evolution of the two giants of modern art as if it were an ongoing game of chess between two masters.
|Introduction: Four Angles||10|
|Ch. I||Foreign Languages||24|
|Ch. II||Late Twenties: The Stage||32|
|Ch. III||First Act: Snap Shots (1930-32)||56|
|Ch. IV||Second Act: Making Partners (1932-39)||76|
|Ch. V||Third Act: Parallel Play (1940-44)||128|
|Ch. VI||Fourth Act: Reunion (1944-54)||178|
|Coda: Picasso in Mourning||230|
|Lenders to the exhibition|
"Matisse is always compared to Picasso," writes the Japanese artist Riichiro Kawashima in January 1933:
Quite a long time ago , when Picasso was living in a fashionable studio overlooking the Montparnasse cemetery,...I asked him, "Do you like Matisse?" He widened his big, bright eyes and said, "Well, Matisse paints beautiful and elegant pictures. He is understanding."... When I visited Matisse in Nice four years ago , I asked him, "What do you think of Picasso?" After a moment of silence he said: "He is capricious and unpredictable, but he understands things."
Each painter acknowledges a difference, and each offers laconic praise ("he is understanding...he understands things"). Consider the situation of two works that are far apart in time: in the late spring of 1916, Matisse paints Still Life with a Plaster Bust; in March of 1932, Picasso paints Still Life: Bust, Bowl, and Palette. Could there be a closer pairing? And how can the resemblance of the two works, executed almost sixteen years apart, be accounted for?
The standard explanation -- that Matisse "influenced" Picasso -- is highly unsatisfactory. The very notion of influence, with its implication of passivity, hardly squares with what we know about Picasso's omnivorous exploitation of styles, past or present. It would be just as unsatisfactory to say that Picasso was "influenced" by Ingres in the portraits drawn in the late teens, or by Delacroix in the Women of Algiers series of 1954-55: for the portraits engage in pastiche, and the series after the nineteenth-century artist is the expression of a desire to gather the past into an everlasting present. In March 1932, Picasso attends to Matisse just as he attends on other occasions to Ingres and to Delacroix: he does so with a purpose.
In 1932, Picasso was anxiously preparing his first major retrospective, scheduled to take place in June and July at the Galeries Georges Petit -- exactly a year after Matisse's own retrospective in the very same venue. To say that Picasso was thinking of Matisse would be an understatement. But why does he offer a response to Still Life with a Plaster Bust at this particular time? Did he have something to tell Matisse -- a score to settle, a corrective to offer?
Picasso knew very well that Matisse had painted the still life as a response to cubism, and that it constituted one of Matisse's few really accomplished blendings of his own compositional system with the cubist idiom. In 1916, it also marked the culmination of a particularly vivid exchange between the two painters.
The better to follow the exchange, we introduce a letter from the dealer Léonce Rosenberg to Picasso on November 25, 1915, in which Rosenberg discusses a recent visit to his gallery by Matisse, here called "the master of the 'goldfish'" (a reference to Matisse's Goldfish and Palette.) After showing two Picassos to Matisse -- specifically, Harlequin and Green Still Life -- Rosenberg writes the following report to Picasso:
Like me, the master of the "goldfish" was a bit nonplussed at first: for your Harlequin is such a revolution that even those who know your previous work were a little disconcerted.... After looking at your painting again and again, he honestly recognized that it was superior to anything you had done so far, and that it was the work he preferred to all others. Next to the Harlequin I placed your still life with a green background; you cannot imagine how this other work, while keeping all its splendid textural qualities, looked small in conception.... In your Harlequin, Matisse finds that the means contribute to the action, that they are equal to it, while in the still life there are only means, very beautiful but without object. Finally, he expresses the feeling that his own "goldfish" may have led you to your Harlequin.
Rosenberg, in agreement with Matisse, gently criticizes Picasso's Green Still Life of summer 1914 (in which scholars have often read an echo of the 1911 "Red Studio), adding that, in the eyes of Matisse himself, it was only upon painting his 1915 Harlequin that Picasso came to an understanding of Matisse's Goldfish and Palette of winter 1914-15. And we can propose the following hypothesis: that Matisse's 1916 Still Life with a Plaster Bust was a move in a sequence of sharp exchanges, in a game of "tit-for-tat" between the two painters.
Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press. Copyright © 1998 Flammarion. Text copyright © 1998 Yve-Alain Bois. Illustrations copyright © Succession Picasso 1998 and Succession H. Matisse 1998.