Matisse: A Rare Look into the Artist’s Process

June 22nd, 2010

Sunday was the last day to see The Art Institute of Chicago’s blockbuster Matisse show. Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 had a lofty goal: to show the artist’s previously unexplored evolutionary period, when he developed what he would later call “the methods of modern construction.”

The show was impressive in both the amount and variety of work that was on display. Matisse explored composition and form in sculpture, painting, prints, and drawings. The work was gathered in a series of groupings, each designed to highlight various periods of time in Matisse’s career and the artistic experiments that evolved as a result.

Visually, the show was a lesson in color, shape, and form. Large flat swathes of ultramarine blue and sea-foam green dominated canvases, such as the large-scale Bathers with a Turtle (1908).  Other works demonstrated the energetic qualities of the line, such as the Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg (1914). The flattened, almost colorless figure appears to emerge from the canvas, her shape heightened by the arcing shapes Matisse meticulously scratched into the paint. In the monumental Bathers by a River (1916-1917), Matisse reduced the figure to the most basic of lines and shapes. The three paintings represent radically different interpretations of the female form, demonstrating the breadth of Matisse’s development in such a short period of time.

But perhaps the most remarkable quality of the show was the insight it provided into the thought processes and methods of a widely known artist. It went beyond Matisse’s famous “face” and introduced the public to a collection of work that was arranged in an innovative manner, allowing the viewer to examine these ideas and experiments as they developed over this period in his life. Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 invited those who viewed it to examine how critical the creative process is in shaping the artists we respect and admire.

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 is travelling to MoMA and will be open July 18 to October 11, 2010.

-Nicole Nelson
Nicole Nelson is a second-year graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, going for her Masters in New Arts Journalism. She is currently the marketing intern at Fear No Art Chicago. When not writing or studying, she enjoys taking pictures, reading historical fiction, and finding art in unexpected places.

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