*Sadly this show is over. But we love Sharon’s reviews and like to keep them in our library.

ASE art writer Sharon Lorenzo reviews the Henri Matisse show at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – until March 17, 2013

Forty nine paintings by the French master, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) are presented at the Metropolitan Museum by senior curator for Modern and Contemporary Art, Rebecca Rabinow. Her meticulous research, cooperation with the Matisse family and a fellow art historian from Copenhagen, Dorthe Aagesen, has brought us a glimpse at both the product and process of this great master. In an age where contemporary artists are focused as much on the way their works are made as the end product, we can see that this tradition is not new. Matisse documented his vision as it waxed and waned with copies of his own works, editing the one before for a sharper focus or alteration of details.

When Matisse was mid-career living in Paris, the era of photography came of age, and this very medium allowed him to document the progress of his own painting. In one exhibition at the famous Galerie Maeght, he showed more than a dozen photos of his painting, The Dream, 1940. We can see these all reassembled in the Met show, and each image is a snapshot of how the master changed this colors and composition until the final moment the work was done.

Why is a show like this a contribution to our understanding of a master like Matisse? Because it informs us about his methodology which actually began in his early years as he copied great paintings at the Louvre. For young emerging artists, it is a lesson that this kind of masterful work does not spring from the head of Zeus without a great deal of thought and visual editing. Rebecca Rabinow was able to borrow so many pairs of paintings that have been separated for years and bring them together so that we can see the works side by side. The works, Still Life with Purro I and II are a classic example of how Matisse took a dabble at painting like the pointillists with blobs of color before he moved to a more refined engagement with his palette. Seeing the ten versions of The Large Blue Dress from 1937 is almost like a video that dances across the wall as the pose for the model and the dress shift from side to side.

Roberta Smith of the New York Times said this exhibition is like an archaeological excavation where Matisse digs deeper into his own work to refine his vision with each push and pull. 1 This show skims across the long trajectory of his brilliant career and brings us some of the best of his masterpieces. These chosen pictures will dazzle us for ages to come with their refinement and beauty.


Still Life with Purros I and II, 1904

The Large Blue Dress, 1937

1 Evolving Toward Ecstasy, Roberta Smith, The New York Times, November 30, 2012.