Few artists have inspired my own work more than French Fauvist Henri Matisse. His elegant draftsmanship, particularly his gift of utilizing the economy of line has made Matisse a hallmark of 20th century modern art. His work is so simple that at first glance it can appear understated. However, a simple curve can define a shoulder, suggest its volume, and establish its place in relation to the picture plane. All with a rare certainty that is specific to his “less is more” distinct style.
This is part of an exhibit running from now until September 18, at the Weatherspoon Art Museum. It is featuring a collection of works from both Henri Matisse and minimalist artist Ellsworth Kelly, who curated the exhibition.
The first showroom is an exhibit devoted to original works by Matisse. Representing a span from 1900 to 1950, it houses a wide variety of quick sketches and finished drawings that cover most of his career. These drawings are an intimate view into Matisse’s style of working. They showcase his notable use of line variation to create emotion, depth, and movement among his pieces; all with a sense of fluidity and circumspection. Curator of the exhibit, Ellsworth Kelly chose the ones that he was most fond of, “the ones that reveal him working, where you can follow his progress.”
Matisse’s Drawings are a first-hand look at the way Matisse studied the human body. He simplified its complexity to capture the pure essence of form, giving his work life. My favorite from this collection, “Nu a la fenetre” or translated as ”Nude at a window.” This could have been the first draft of one of Matisse’s colorful, semi-tropical paintings inspired by his residence in southern France. A nude woman seen mostly from the back and sides stands alongside a foliage filled window frame . With just a few lines, Matisse creates a space, an entire room for this woman to position herself. He fully realizes the composition by actually sketching his hand into the lower left corner.
After indulging in the abstract works of Matisse, the adjacent exhibit appropriately leads into a botanical series of lithographs. These were done by artist and curator of the exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly. Plant lithographs are a bridge between his figurative work and abstraction. These prints are a direct reflection of the summers Kelly spent living in Southern France from 1964 to 1965, where he first got into Matisse. He makes it clear in his curating of the exhibit that his work is “not based on influence but rather inspiration”, which is evident throughout the series. However, while Matisse celebrates vitality of gesture, Kelly distills his observations down to concise and concentrated forms, focusing primarily on shape.
While most of the lithographs were created in mere minutes, there is similar certainty in the application of line that was prominent in Matisse’s work. “Lemon”, 1964-1965 is nature in it’s purest form.
The final showcase: Selections from the Claribel and Etta Cone Collections features more finalized lithographic prints and bronze sculptures by Henri Matisse. As a master at draftsmanship, printmaking, and painting, sculpture allowed him to further understand the form of the human body. This exhibit focuses primarily on women in interiors and studies of the female nude, again distilling the human body down to its most essential elements. My favorite piece from this private collection “Nu couche au paravent Louis XIV (Reclining nude with Louis XIV screen)”. It’s a small, intimate piece of a woman lying on her back, relaxing in bed. This relates back to Matisse’s desire to have a “relaxing in an easy chair” effect with his paintings. For such a small piece it manages to boast with beautiful detail. From the floral patterned wallpaper to the folding of the bed sheets, you’re tempted closer and closer by this painting. This little lithograph was precise and enticing and held my attention for quite awhile.
Exhibits like these are excellent chances to see lesser known work by famous artists. These work is both beautiful and truly inspiring, make sure you get to see them for yourself.