Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Artist I Love: Henri Matisse — The Art of Color, Grace, Joy and Life in a New Exhibition

Come with me to discover San Francisco’s surprise summer hit museum show, ‘Matisse from SFMOMA’, a creative co-production by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA (which is currently closed for major additions).

The show, presented by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, showcases four decades of paintings, sculpture, and drawings from the two museums’ collections of Henri Matisse (1869-1954). It’s open through September 7, 2014, at the Legion of Honor museum (one of my favorites).

What’s surprising about the show is that San Francisco has had a century-long, close relationship Henri Matisse.

In 1904 the San Francisco-based Steins—Gertrude Stein and her brother Michael Stein, and his wife, Sarah, and their younger brother Leo, an art critic—invited Henri Matisse, then unknown, to exhibit in their private art and literature salons on rue Madame and rue Fleurus in Paris.

It’s often said in art circles that the art-filled Stein salon in Paris of that period was the first ‘museum of modern art’, showing Picasso’s latest works as well as Matisse, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin and others not yet accepted by the art hierarchy.

San Francisco collectors were among the first to appreciate and support Matisse—at a time when he was rejected by the classical art salons in Paris (though collected in-depth by Russian devotees, with paintings shown at The Hermitage to this day).

It is not surprising then that collectors in Northern California, such as the art-loving heirs of Levi Strauss and today Diane B. Wilsey, have beautiful examples of Matisse’s work in their collections.

This delightful show, Matisse at SFMOMA offers a closer look at several paintings that are in private residences in San Francisco. One vibrant painting, “Chrysanthemums in a Chinese Vase’ hangs on the walls of Ann and Gordon’s house. It can be seen in my recent book, ‘Ann Getty Interior Style’. And Diane B. Wilsey’s lovely ‘ The Pink Blouse’, always in her residence, is here to peruse.

The show—an overview of Matisse’s colorful and compelling lifework—includes several exquisite landscapes from private San Francisco collections, and other works that are seldom in exhibitions.

It’s a quiet show, awaiting your gaze and pleasure.

I’ve written about Henri Matisse paintings, and Matisse in the South of France quite often. You can check out my visit to his Nice residence, Villa la Reve here. 

I enjoyed seeing the development of Matisse’s art and craft in this current show at the Legion. In particular, I’m fascinated by the work he created in the twenties…after he returned from Morocco with Moroccan décor and fabrics, and with specific models in pretty dresses who pose in textile-draped scenes. 

Jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Matisse from SFMOMA brings together the work of Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) from both institutions’ collections for the presentation at the Legion of Honor.

The single-gallery exhibition features 23 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from SFMOMA’s internationally acclaimed Matisse collection, alongside four important paintings and drawings from the Fine Arts Museums’ holdings, and works from private local collections. On view until September 7, 2014, Matisse from SFMOMA traces four decades of Matisse’s career. 

Matisse moved to Nice in 1917 to distance himself from wartime activity. The bright, warm colors of the South of France showed him "simpler venues which won’t stifle the spirit." His spirit became loyal to the "silver clarity of light" in Nice, and he returned to Paris only for a few months each summer. The years 1917–30 are known as his early Nice period, when his principal subject remained the female figure or an odalisque dressed in oriental costume or in various stages of dress and undress, depicted as standing, seated, or reclining in a luxurious, exotic interior of Matisse's own creation. These paintings are infused with southern light, bright colors, and a profusion of decorative patterns. They emanate atmosphere.

“It is a true pleasure to offer the collaborative efforts of our two institutions to our community,” declared Colin B. Bailey, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco director. “San Francisco is fortunate to be home to impressive collections of Matisse’s work, and we are pleased to present the works together for the first time at the Legion of Honor, which is known for its outstanding holdings of European art.”

“We are delighted to present these masterworks from our collection in such a stunning setting at the Fine Arts Museums,” said Neal Benezra, SFMOMA director. “Particularly exciting is the rare opportunity to view these Matisse works—so beloved by the public—in a fresh, new light.”

Matisse from SFMOMA is part of SFMOMA’s extensive off-site programming while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. Through early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area. 

Matisse from SFMOMA Overview

Matisse’s expressive canvases were first introduced to San Francisco shortly after the 1906 earthquake, shocking the arts community with their startling colors and brushwork. Since then, the Bay Area has maintained a fervent connection to the artist’s work, resulting in SFMOMA’s rich collection, which showcases pieces from Matisse’s early career, and continues through the 1930s. 

Matisse from SFMOMA includes important examples from the artist’s Fauve period, along with other significant paintings, drawings, and bronzes. Iconic works such as a sketch from “The Joy of Life” (1905‒1906), The Girl with Green Eyes (1908), and portraits of the artist’s early patrons Michael and Sarah Stein (1916) are featured along with major sculptural studies that include Madeleine, I (1901), The Serf (1900–1903), and Large Head: Henriette II (1927). Also on view are pre-Fauve still lifes and landscapes, as well as The Conversation (1938), a later decorative interior.

Selections from the Fine Arts Museums’ collection include the vibrant and exquisitely patterned Young Woman in Pink (1923) from the collection of Diane B. Wilsey, and an early nude painted in the academic manner Faith, the Model (ca. 1901). This nude was formerly owned by the Steins and displayed in their Paris apartment, as were many of the works in SFMOMA’s holdings.

Books on Matisse:

‘Matisse the Master The Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Color 1909—1954’ by Hilary Spurling (Knopf) is very well researched and it's very academic in its detail, insight and information about ever aspect of his life and work. I found it compelling, as it speaks of influences on his work, locations where he loved to paint, his trip to Morocco that was so influential, and the models he painted. I’m interested in the period in the twenties and thirties when he worked so happily at Villa le Reve in the hills near Nice…the lovely house and garden I visited. Learning of his life offers understanding of his changing subjects, and the styling of his models’ outfits and scenes. It’s a massive book, essential for an art lover, and especially a Matisse fan.

‘Matisse in Morocco’ Paintings 1912-13. Published by the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Essential for reference of this period and its influence on subsequent paintings. The book offers vivid insight into Matisse’s sketches, colors and styles. Most detailed it’s excellent for learning more about ‘how art happens’.

Taschen has fine books on Matisse’s paintings, depicting a broad range of the finest works, and with brief biographical insight.

There are also several new books on the ‘cut-outs’, with recent exhibitions in London sparking renewed interest.

"In modern art, it is undoubtedly to Cézanne that I owe the most." —Henri Matisse

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The Legion of Honor, San Francisco

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and became the Memorial Museum. Thirty years later, it was renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, a longtime champion of the museum. The present copper-clad, landmark building, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, opened in October 2005. It showcases the institution’s significant collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor architecture was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, which was a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The museum opened in 1924 in the Beaux Arts–style building designed by George Applegarth, on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.

About the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Founded as the first West Coast museum devoted to modern and contemporary art, SFMOMA is currently undergoing a major expansion project that will significantly enhance its gallery, education, and public spaces, enabling the museum to better showcase its expanded permanent collection and serve its growing audiences. During the construction of its new building from the summer of 2013 to early 2016, the museum is moving beyond its walls and into the community with an extensive array of off-site programming throughout the city and region. For more information about SFMOMA and its expansion project, visit sfmoma.org. Matisse from SFMOMA is part of SFMOMA’s extensive off-site programming while its building is temporarily closed for expansion construction. Through early 2016, SFMOMA is on the go, presenting a dynamic slate of jointly organized and traveling exhibitions, public art displays and site-specific installations, and newly created education programs throughout the Bay Area. 


Images from SFMOMA, used here with express permission.

For more information on the re-opening of SFMOMA when additions and alternations are completed check sfmoma.org

SFMOMA is currently in full throttle with a series of magnificent off-site exhibitions all over the city. One recent one featured dramatic Mark di Suvero sculptures on Crissy Field.

Matisse from SFMOMA is jointly organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Major support is generously provided by the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

Exhibition Catalogue
The exhibition is accompanied by a 40-page, illustrated catalogue, Matisse and San Francisco, published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Legion of HonorLincoln Park
34th Avenue and Clement Street
San Francisco, CA 94121


Karena said...

Diane I would love to attend this phenomenal exhibit. Matisse's works of bright saturated color are some of my favorites in the art world!

The Arts by Karena

Kirsten Honeyman said...

The images of Matisse's work take my breath away! Thank you for highlighting the exhibit and for providing such interesting information about the connection between Matisse and the Bay Area.

Philip Bewley said...

Hello Diane!
This is a lovely post. I enjoyed reading this very much.I have seen this exhibition numerous times now -and it is intimate, bijou, revelatory. This is an exhibition that every Bay Area designer, artist, art and design student should see -the works by Matisse had such a profound influence on the Bay Area Tradition in art. Diebenkorn described seeing the works by Matisse at the home of Sarah and Michael Stein in Palo Alto when Diebenkorn was a student at Stanford in the 1940's. You can see the influence of Matisse in Diebekorn's work -and that was illustrated in that recent show at the DeYoung. Another Stanford student, Robert Motherwell, also described seeing the same collection in the 1930's at the Steins residence -he said that the works by Matisse went through him, "Like an arrow" and that after seeing them he knew what he wanted to do…I believe that Matisse was one of the first exhibitions in the 1930's by the then newly formed SFMOMA.
This exhibit is also a nice follow-up to that fine exhibition a few years back at SFMOMA, The Steins Collect.
In one of my visits to the exhibition I went with an accomplished artist who travelled here specifically to see the exhibition -and hearing her insights on the use of color by Matisse was fascinating -in Still Life by Blue Jug that you show in your post, Matisse combines subtle complements of green and red to create a tension and energy…the viewer looking at the color green in a painting unconsciously will seek out its complement (of red).
The exhibition described in some accompanying text that Matisse was enthusiastically greeted by his local admirers at the train station when he made his only visit to San Francisco in 1930. I like to imagine that scene, and seeing him being greeted again so enthusiastically by museum-goers to the Legion today.
Loved your post, Diane… thinking about it all and being inspired all over again.. also loved reading again your superb account at Villa La Reve.
Warm regards,


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Art lovers all!

I'm so glad you enjoyed this post.
Matisse …when in Paris I am quite consumed with finding his work (along with Delacroix and so many others, especially portraitists. I always go to a museum to look at a specific work…a self-portrait by Albrecht Durer, or a less known work by Cezanne or Vermeer).
Philip--you are right that knowing Matisse's connection with the Stein family (all from San Francisco)…gives the paintings a new dimension.
My approach to viewing art…is to read a lot about the artist (Picasso…I am always reading about)…and then going to the museum armed with that background and texture. Then…I look at the paintings and respond to them as paintings…pure and direct and emotional…and then in the back of my head I think, 'that was painted at the time they first met' or 'that was painted during the war' or 'he painted this when they escaped to the chateau' or 'this is amazing as it has never been shown in a public exhibition before'…etc etc.Or that was influenced by his trip ro Morocco…etc.
Lots more great things to come…so stay close and be sure to keep in touch.
Philip…God speed. xx D

Sarah said...

Thanks for the overview. I would love to see this exhibit. Do you know if it is traveling elsewhere?