Matisse show in Paris reveals his obsessive nature

Wed Mar 7, 2012 9:00am EST
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By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters) - A major exhibition on Henri Matisse opening in Paris this week brings a new perspective to his work, showing the painstaking creative process behind the simple shapes and strident colors that made the French artist's name.

"Matisse: Pairs and Series" explores for the first time how one of the greatest painters of the 20th century would repeat the same composition again and again, varying color and technique, before being satisfied with the result.

For a man best known as leader of the Fauvist movement, and for seemingly spontaneous bursts of color such as his 1906 "Joy of Life," the show reveals an insecure and restrained side that would remain unchanged throughout a six-decade career.

"We wanted to challenge the received wisdom that he was a happy painter, an easy painter, a sort of virtuoso of simplicity and joy," said exhibition curator Cecile Debray.

"Matisse was obsessive, worried, racked with doubt from the beginning to the end, and he showed it in his painting through this constant multiplication and exploration," she said.

The exhibition, expected to be one of the highlights of the spring cultural season in Paris, runs to June 18 at the Pompidou Center, before moving on to Copenhagen's Statens Museum for Kunst and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It comprises some 60 paintings and 30 drawings, including emblematic works like Matisse's "Blue Nude" cut-paper series from 1952, four collages labeled I to IV, where he began the last work first then tried three different variations, before coming back to finish his first attempt at the end.

"A painting is like a card game: you should know from the beginning what you wish to achieve at the end. Everything should be worked backwards so that you have finished before you have begun," Matisse is quoted as saying in the exhibition.   Continued...

Visitors look at two paintings, "Seville Still Life" (L) and "Spanish Still Life", by French painter Henri Matisse, who lived from 1869 to 1964, during the press presentation of the exhibition "Matisse, Paires and Series" at the Centre Pompidou modern art museum in Paris March 5, 2012. The exhibition will run from March 7 to June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes