Matisse's "aha" moment subject of U.S. museum show

Tue Mar 23, 2010 7:55pm EDT
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - His artistic career spanned six decades, but curators of the museum show "Henri Matisse: Radical Invention" have focused on the years from 1913 to 1917 when he created what he termed his "most important pictures."

"It's an amazing moment when Matisse, the master of color, tones down the color and pays attention to form," said Stephanie D'Alessandro, curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.

"Radical Invention" will make only two stops: Now through June 20 at the Art Institute of Chicago, and July 18 to October 11 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

The pared-down exhibition is smaller than blockbusters of the recent past. But its 117 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures plucked from museums and private collections across the globe exhilarated early crowds in Chicago.

The exhibition's centerpiece is the Art Institute's own monumental "Bathers by a River" that Matisse once said was his most important painting and one that he revised repeatedly.

Over the last four years, curators have used X-rays and other techniques to examine the work's under-painting, seeing how it evolved from a naturalistic scene to a Cubist work more reminiscent of Picasso's seminal "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" of 1907, with less influence from Matisse's beloved Cezanne.

"He was a controversial, fully established, artist" in 1913 when he began "Bathers," MoMA curator John Elderfield said.

Matisse had been recognized for the explosive colors he employed as a Fauve artist, which preceded his epiphanies with Cubist abstraction.   Continued...

<p>Henri Matisse's "Bathers by a River" is seen in this undated handout. REUTERS/The Art Institute of Chicago/Handout</p>