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Matisse in the studio – A new exhibition at The Royal Academy

By Orfeo Mattar
  • Where: The Royal Academy
  • What: Matisse in the Studio
  • Open until: November 12, 2017
  • Ticket price: £15.50 (without donation £14). Concessions available. Friends of the RA, and under 16s when with a fee-paying adult, go free.
  • Why go: “Matisse transmutes the mundane into the magical.”

Great artists have the ability to transform the mundane into the magical and this exhibition offers a glimpse behind the curtain, a chance to understand Matisse through the objects that inspired him.

Upon entry, we are immediately greeted by a series of still lifes. These hang neatly next to objects taken from the studio, allowing the visitor to make an immediate and visual comparison between the two. Displaying the objects (a coffee pot, a vase and a chair) gives them an inflated importance. By exhibiting them as though they were also creative works, the everyday nature of the objects is overshadowed by the extraordinary representations on the walls. We are therefore invited to compare the objects and paintings as equals.

On the left: Vase. Photo © François Fernadez, Nice. On the right: Henri Matisse, Photo © Private collection. Artwork: © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017.

The following rooms explore the influence of non-Western art on Matisse’s style. Here, the exhibition shifts from examining the objects that feature in his work to those that informed his work. This is predominantly achieved by neatly placing African masks to show the obvious influence they had on Matisse’s portraits. Items from other cultures pepper the rooms, but the links they have with the works are less obvious.

On the left: Henri Matisse, Head of Jeannette V. Photograph by Cathy Carver. Artwork: © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017. On the right: Mboom mask, Photo © François Fernandez, Nice.

Finally, we are given the chance to examine how Matisse constructs his more tableau-like paintings. Once again, objects are given a particular prominence in the exhibition. However, unlike with the still lifes, these objects are now part of a wider scene. Interestingly, the prominence of the object is still reflected in how Matisse approaches these paintings: by treating every element of the painting as equal, he seems to assign a particular importance to the inanimate.

Henri Matisse, Yellow Odalisque, 1937. Photo © Philadelphia Museum of Art. Artwork: © Succession H. Matisse/DACS 2017.

Power is a prominent theme throughout this exhibition – be it the transformative power of the artist upon the everyday object or the influence of art upon the artist. For those interested in this dynamic the exhibition is a must-see.

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