This summer, the Musée Matisse in Nice will highlight the relationship between two of the most iconic artists of the 20th century, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
« As different as the north pole is from the south pole », this is how Henri Matisse used to describe Pablo Picasso and himself. But if these two artists seemed for many to be the perfect rivals – one being as flamboyant as the other was intensely private -, they nonetheless cultivated a deep friendship over the years and greatly influenced each other. That is the paradox that the upcoming summer exhibition in the Musée Matisse in Nice is going to explore with « Matisse et Picasso, la comédie du modèle ».
Stemming from the notion of the « comedy of the model » referred to by Aragon in « Henri Matisse, a novel », the event will be structured around four thematic sections to allow the more than 150 paintings, sculptures, and graphic works on display to tell the story of this incredible lifelong dialogue between the twin giants of Modern art; a dialogue that started in 1906 in Paris, when Gertrude Stein took Matisse to visit Picasso in Montmartre. From then on, and despite seeing themselves as competitors, the two artists started visiting each other’s studio and exchanging paintings from which they could learn. While at first they may not have liked what the other was painting, they soon however quickly understood that they could challenge themselves through their respective productions, prompting each other to work on the same subjects, sometimes even with the same title.
The healthy rivalry produced many masterpieces. Take for instance The Three Dancers, which Picasso painted in 1925 when he was working on the sets and costumes of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Matisse’s Dance II, which both distort the classical theme of the Greek trio of the three graces, or Le Luxe I which Matisse painted in response to Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse.
As Picasso told one of his biographers, Pierre Daix, « You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at that time. No one has ever looked at Matisse’s painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he ».
Meanwhile for Matisse: « Only one person has the right to criticize me, it’s Picasso ».
While the two giants drifted apart during the 1920s after Matisse left Paris for Nice and Picasso became involved with the Surrealists and plunged into Cubism, they became extremely close in old age, both personally and artistically, when the Spaniard moved to Vallauris after World War II.
Aside from the pieces of art that come from the Musée national Picasso-Paris as well as from public institutions and private collections, a photographic section will also compare the two artists at work in their respective studios and show both the differences and similarities between them, while documents, letters, exhibition catalogues, reviews and films will illustrate the history of their relationship.
The exhibition has received the prestigious ‘National Exhibition of Interest’ label for 2018, created by the Ministry of Culture, to reward innovative museum offerings and previously unexplored themes. It is also part of the Picasso-Méditerranée programme, an initiative of, and produced with the support of, the Musée national Picasso-Paris that is being held until the Autumn of 2019.
Matisse et Picasso, la comédie du modèle runs from the 23rd of June to the 29th of the September at the Musée Matisse in Nice.
164, avenue des Arènes de Cimiez
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 81 08 08
Lead image © RIVIERA BUZZ, all rights reserved