Matisse​ & Picasso

13 December 2019 – 13 April 2020

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Matisse & Picasso is the first exhibition in Australia to tell the story of the artistic relationship between two of Europe’s greatest twentieth-century artists. Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) met in 1906 and for more than half a century followed each other’s creative developments and achievements. The sustained rivalry between them was not only key to their individual success, it also changed the course of 20th century Western European art.

‘Nobody ever looked at Matisse’s work as thoroughly as I did. And he at mine.’

Pablo Picasso, 1960s

Pablo Picasso 
L'Arlésienne: Lee Miller 1937
Private international collection
© Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency

This exhibition brings together masterpieces from collections across the world and includes paintings that will be on display in Australia for the first time.

At the outset, Matisse and Picasso’s styles were poles apart. First visiting Paris in 1900 and settling there four years later, Spanish-born Picasso began exploring novel territory that would lead him to Cubism. In this way, he could confront the older French master – renowned leader of the Fauves, or ‘wild beasts’ – whose creativity he found enticing but disturbing, and to whom he had first been introduced by the writer Gertrude Stein.

Pablo Picasso 
Femme en Chemise assise (Seated Woman in a Chemise)
Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933, Tate
© Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency

Yet Picasso became increasingly dissatisfied with the self-imposed limits of this new visual language – the tiny brushstrokes, the static forms, the limited palette. He began to appreciate Matisse’s eye for brilliant colour and texture, his method of blending forms with their surrounds to impart a flat, decorative quality, and his ability to infuse his canvases with a sense of movement.

Significantly, both men felt the need to confront the challenging legacy of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) in order to develop and thrive as artists. Picasso admired the deformations and voluminous space of Cézanne’s art, while Matisse celebrated Cézanne’s constructions of colour and his merging of motif and background. They also drew inspiration from the paintings and woodcuts of Paul Gauguin (1849–1903).

As the century progressed, Picasso became a colossus of modern art. Many younger artists, at first inspired by Matisse and the other Fauvists, instead began to take their cues from his work. For much of his career Picasso was perceived as an immovable object, blocking the way forward for other artists, who could only follow in his wake. The exception to this was Matisse.

Henri Matisse 
Nature morte aux oranges ou La corbeille d'oranges
[Still Life With Oranges]
, 1912
Collection personnelle de Picasso
Musée national Picasso – Paris.
© Succession H. Matisse/Copyright Agency. Photo : RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

No one was more watchful of Picasso’s art than Matisse, and vice versa. Sometimes they ‘answered’ each other immediately, on other occasions it took years for artistic themes, planted like seeds, to burst forth in a flurry of activity. Each felt the need to acknowledge and absorb the other’s work. After Matisse’s death in 1954, Picasso’s art changed again as he mourned the loss of a figure who had held such sway over his entire career.

Matisse & Picasso features more than 60 paintings and sculptures drawn from prestigious public and private collections internationally and in Australia. The exhibition also includes examples of the Gallery’s rich holdings of drawings, prints, illustrated books and costumes by Matisse and Picasso. Together, they reveal how and why these two giants of modern art mined each other’s work in order to enhance their own.

Henri Matisse dessinant, villa "Le Reue", Vence [Henri Matisse drawing, Villa Le Rêve, Vence] 1946
Purchased 1980

Picasso in his Paris studio 1939
Purchased 1979