The Matisse Museum in Nice is dedicated to the work of the French painter Henri Matisse. It brings together one of the world’s largest collections of his works, which allows us to retrace his artistic journey and his developments from his beginnings to his latest works. Housed in the Villa des Arenes, a Genoese villa of the xvii th century the area of Cimiez, the museum opened its doors in 1963.
Classified as “Musée de France,” the Musée Matisse covers a total surface of 2,800 m2, of which 1,200 m2 of exhibition spaces spans the villa and the expansion. In 2013, the ceramic La Piscine, a gift from Claude and Barbara Duthuit, was installed in a dedicated room, on the entrance level. In 2017, a renovation campaign began. It began with a recasting of the visitors’ itinerary, the remodeling of the entrance space and the installation of educational devices.
The Musée Matisse is part of a vast patrimonial complex of the Cimiez site that includes the Roman arenas and ruins, a garden with hundred-years old olive trees, as well as the Cimiez monastery.
Henri Matisse was a French artist, painter, draftsman and sculptor, known primarily as a painter, for both his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.
A major figure of the 20th century, its influence on the art of the second half of this century is considerable by the use of simplification, stylization, synthesis and color as the sole subject of the painting, both for the many figurative or abstract painters who will claim to him and his discoveries. He was the leader of Fauvism. Many of his finest works were created in the decade or so after 1906, when he developed a rigorous style that emphasized flattened forms and decorative pattern. In 1917, he relocated to a suburb of Nice on the French Riviera, and the more relaxed style of his work during the 1920s gained him critical acclaim as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting. After 1930, he adopted a bolder simplification of form. When ill health in his final years prevented him from painting, he created an important body of work in the medium of cut paper collage.
His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art. Pablo Picasso, who was his friend and considered him his rival, to Andy Warhol who “wanted to be Matisse ” all the painters of the XX th century were confronted with the glory and genius of Matisse.
Fauvism as a style began around 1900 and continued beyond 1910. The movement as such lasted only a few years, 1904–1908, and had three exhibitions. The leaders of the movement were Matisse and André Derain. Matisse’s first solo exhibition was at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in 1904, without much success. His fondness for bright and expressive colour became more pronounced after he spent the summer of 1904 painting in St. Tropez with the neo-Impressionists Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. In that year, he painted the most important of his works in the neo-Impressionist style, Luxe, Calme et Volupté. In 1905, he travelled southwards again to work with André Derain at Collioure. His paintings of this period are characterised by flat shapes and controlled lines, using pointillism in a less rigorous way than before.
Matisse and a group of artists now known as “Fauves” exhibited together in a room at the Salon d’Automne in 1905. The paintings expressed emotion with wild, often dissonant colours, without regard for the subject’s natural colours. Matisse showed Open Window and Woman with the Hat at the Salon. Critic Louis Vauxcelles commented on a lone sculpture surrounded by an “orgy of pure tones” as “Donatello chez les fauves” (Donatello among the wild beasts), referring to a Renaissance-type sculpture that shared the room with them. His comment was printed on 17 October 1905 in Gil Blas, a daily newspaper, and passed into popular usage. The exhibition garnered harsh criticism—”A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public”, said the critic Camille Mauclair—but also some favourable attention. When the painting that was singled out for special condemnation, Matisse’s Woman with a Hat, was bought by Gertrude and Leo Stein, the embattled artist’s morale improved considerably.
Matisse was recognised as a leader of the Fauves, along with André Derain; the two were friendly rivals, each with his own followers. Other members were Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, and Maurice de Vlaminck. The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826–1898) was the movement’s inspirational teacher. As a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he pushed his students to think outside of the lines of formality and to follow their visions.
At the beginning of 1905, Matisse took part in the Salon des Indépendants. In the summer of 1905, he stayed on the shores of the Mediterranean, at Collioure, in the company of Derain. He meets the sculptor Maillol. At the Salon d’Automne in 1905, the hanging of works by Matisse, Albert Marquet, Vlaminck, Derain and Kees van Dongen caused a scandal by the pure and violent colors laid flat on their canvases. Seeing these paintings grouped together in the same room, the critic Louis Vauxcelles, in an article entitled “Le Salon d’automne”, published in Gil Blas, leOctober 17, 1905, describes the living room room by room. He writes in particular “Room n o VII. MM. Henri Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, Camoin, Girieud, Derain, Ramon Pichot. Room archi-clear, daring, outrageous, whose intentions must be deciphered, leaving the clever and fools the right to laugh, criticism too easy. In the center of the room, a child’s torso and a small marble bust, by Albert Marque, who models with delicate science. The candor of these busts surprises in the middle of the orgy of pure tones: Donatello chez les fauves… ”.
The name of “fauve” was immediately adopted and claimed by the painters themselves. This period also marks the recognition of Matisse’s work, finally allowing him relative material ease; he becomes the leader of fauvism.
Matisse explains it thus:
“Fauvism shakes up the tyranny of divisionism. You cannot live in a household that is too well done, a household of provincial aunts. So we go into the bush to find simpler means that do not stifle the mind. There is also at this time, the influence of Gauguin and Van Gogh. Here are the ideas of the time: construction by colored surfaces, search for intensity in color. The light is not suppressed, but it is expressed by an agreement of the intensely colored surfaces. My painting Musicwas made with a beautiful blue for the sky, the bluest of the blues. The surface was colored to saturation, that is, to the point where blue, the idea of absolute blue, appeared entirely, the green of the trees and the vibrant vermilion of the bodies. I had with these three colors my luminous harmony, and also the purity in the hue. Particular sign, the color was proportioned to the shape. The shape changed, according to the reactions of the colored neighborhoods. Because the expression comes from the colored surface that the spectator grasps in its entirety. ”
André Gide writes in Promenade au salon d’Automne:
“I want to admit that Mr. Henri Matisse has the finest natural gifts. The canvases he presents today have the appearance of theorem presentations. Everything can be deduced, explained, intuition has nothing to do. ”
.. While on the walls of Montparnasse, one could read: “Matisse maddening, Matisse is more dangerous than absinthe. ” The same year, he met Edmond-Marie Poullain and Signac buys Luxe, Calme et Volupté. In 1907, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote in his reviews:
“Every painting, every drawing by Henri Matisse has a virtue that we cannot always identify, but which is a real strength. And it is the artist’s strength not to upset her, to let her act. If one had to compare the work of Henri Matisse to something, one would have to choose orange. Like her, the work of Henri Matisse is a fruit of dazzling light. With complete good faith and a pure desire to know and realize himself, this painter has never ceased to follow his instinct. He leaves it to her to choose between the emotions, to judge and limit the fantasy and that of scrutinizing the light deeply, nothing but the light. At a glance, his art was stripped and despite its ever greater simplicity it did not fail to become more sumptuous. It is not skill that makes this art simpler and the work more readable. But, the beauty of the light blending more and more each day with the virtue of the instinct to which the artist relies entirely, everything that opposed this union disappears as memories sometimes melt into the mists of the past.. ”
In 1907, Guillaume Apollinaire, commenting about Matisse in an article published in La Falange, wrote, “We are not here in the presence of an extravagant or an extremist undertaking: Matisse’s art is eminently reasonable.” But Matisse’s work of the time also encountered vehement criticism, and it was difficult for him to provide for his family. His painting Nu bleu (1907) was burned in effigy at the Armory Show in Chicago in 1913.
The September 18, 1909, Matisse signs his contract with the Josse and Gaston Bernheim gallery which exhibits him. This contract provides that Matisse receives 25% of the selling price of the paintings. The three-year contract was renewed for seventeen years. Matisse found himself, in his own words: “condemned to make only masterpieces.”
The decline of the Fauvist movement after 1906 did not affect the career of Matisse; many of his finest works were created between 1906 and 1917, when he was an active part of the great gathering of artistic talent in Montparnasse, even though he did not quite fit in, with his conservative appearance and strict bourgeois work habits. He continued to absorb new influences. He travelled to Algeria in 1906 studying African art and Primitivism. After viewing a large exhibition of Islamic art in Munich in 1910, he spent two months in Spain studying Moorish art. He visited Morocco in 1912 and again in 1913 and while painting in Tangier he made several changes to his work, including his use of black as a colour. The effect on Matisse’s art was a new boldness in the use of intense, unmodulated colour, as in L’Atelier Rouge (1911).
Matisse had a long association with the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin. He created one of his major works La Danse specially for Shchukin as part of a two painting commission, the other painting being Music, 1910. An earlier version of La Danse (1909) is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Matisse met Leo and Gertrude Stein, American collectors, living in Paris, who bought him Woman with a Hat (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), a portrait of Madame Matisse which was exhibited in the “cage aux fauves”. In 1907, at home, he met Picasso. Gertrude Stein defined the two artists as the “North Pole” (Matisse) and the “South Pole” (Picasso) of Modern Art. Fernande Olivier remembers that at dinners in town, Matisse seemed learned and professed, answering only yes or no, or suddenly getting bogged down in endless theories. “Matisse, much older, serious, never had the ideas of Picasso . “Then Matisse finds the critic Louis Vauxcelles, to whom he says to have seen at the jury of the Salon a painting by Georges Braque “made in small cubes”, which Matisse baptizes by the name of ” cubism “.
Around April 1906, he met Pablo Picasso, who was 11 years younger than Matisse. The two became lifelong friends as well as rivals and are often compared. One key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted from nature, while Picasso was more inclined to work from imagination. The subjects painted most frequently by both artists were women and still lifes, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully realised interiors. Matisse and Picasso were first brought together at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein with her companion Alice B. Toklas. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Americans in Paris—Gertrude Stein, her brothers Leo Stein, Michael Stein, and Michael’s wife Sarah—were important collectors and supporters of Matisse’s paintings. In addition, Gertrude Stein’s two American friends from Baltimore, the Cone sisters Claribel and Etta, became major patrons of Matisse and Picasso, collecting hundreds of their paintings and drawings. The Cone collection is now exhibited in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
In 1908, Matisse published Note of a Painter. The same year, with the financial help of Sarah and Michael Stein, among others, Matisse opened a free academy at the Couvent des Oiseaux, then at the Hôtel de Biron (where Rodin had his presentation workshop). The success was immediate: out of 120 students enrolled in total, there were students mostly foreign, since there were no French and mainly young Scandinavian painters, as well as Germans, from the circle of the café du Dôme.. The painter Hans Purrmann is called “great massier “. The Matisse Academy closed in 1911.
While numerous artists visited the Stein salon, many of these artists were not represented among the paintings on the walls at 27 rue de Fleurus. Where the works of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso dominated Leo and Gertrude Stein’s collection, Sarah Stein’s collection particularly emphasised Matisse.
Contemporaries of Leo and Gertrude Stein, Matisse and Picasso became part of their social circle and routinely joined the gatherings that took place on Saturday evenings at 27 rue de Fleurus. Gertrude attributed the beginnings of the Saturday evening salons to Matisse, remarking:
“More and more frequently, people began visiting to see the Matisse paintings—and the Cézannes: Matisse brought people, everybody brought somebody, and they came at any time and it began to be a nuisance, and it was in this way that Saturday evenings began.”
Matisse remembers his teaching activity in 1951: “I used to drop by from time to time, in the evening, to see what they were doing. I quickly realized that I had to devote myself to my own work first, that I risked spending too much energy on this activity. After each criticism, I found myself in front of lambs, which I had to endlessly put back on their feet, week after week, in order to make them lions. I then wondered if I was in fact a painter or a teacher; I came to the conclusion that I was a painter and quickly quit school. ”
In 1909, the Russian collector Sergei Chtchoukine ordered two paintings from him: La Danse and La Musique. These two canvases, which are considered two masterpieces by the painter, were presented at the Salon d’Automne in 1910, and were installed in Moscow in 1911.
The Dance is described by Marcel Sembat: “A frenzied circle turns pink movements on a blue background. On the left a large figure drives the whole chain. What drunkenness. What a bacchante. This sovereign arabesque, this gripping curve which goes from the turned head to the projecting hip descends along the outstretched leg. ”
Between 1908 and 1912, his works were exhibited in Moscow, Berlin, Munich and London. Matisse and Amélie return to Ajaccio, December 1912. In 1913, Matisse was exhibited at the Armory Show in New York, alongside works by Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, as so many representatives of the most modern art.
In 1917, Matisse relocated to Cimiez on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice. His work of the decade or so following this relocation shows a relaxation and softening of his approach. This “return to order” is characteristic of much post-World War I art, and can be compared with the neoclassicism of Picasso and Stravinsky as well as the return to traditionalism of Derain. Matisse’s orientalist odalisque paintings are characteristic of the period; while this work was popular, some contemporary critics found it shallow and decorative.
In the late 1920s, Matisse once again engaged in active collaborations with other artists. He worked with not only Frenchmen, Dutch, Germans, and Spaniards, but also a few Americans and recent American immigrants.
After 1930, a new vigor and bolder simplification appeared in his work. American art collector Albert C. Barnes convinced Matisse to produce a large mural for the Barnes Foundation, The Dance II, which was completed in 1932; the Foundation owns several dozen other Matisse paintings. This move toward simplification and a foreshadowing of the cutout technique is also evident in his painting Large Reclining Nude (1935). Matisse worked on this painting for several months and documented the progress with a series of 22 photographs, which he sent to Etta Cone.
In 1924, Matisse devoted himself to sculpture and produced Grand nu assis, which is exemplary of his style – both in arabesques and in angles – in the round. Matisse has been practicing sculpture since he was a pupil of Antoine Bourdelle, of which Matisse retains the taste for large stylizations, as can be seen in the large series of Nu de dos, series of monumental plasters that he creates. between 1909 and 1930. Matisse confronts the pictorial problems he encounters in bas-relief: the outline of the monumental figures (the production of Nu de dos I, from 1909, is contemporary with that of the large compositions La Musique and La Danse), the relationship between form and substance (the frescoes intended for the Barnes Foundation were produced in 1930, such as Nu de dos IV). However, although the series does not seem to have been designed to be presented as a single entity (the bronze pieces were not cast until after Matisse’s death), these four sculptures constitute a coherent plastic whole.
Diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1941, Matisse underwent surgery that left him chair- and bedbound. Painting and sculpture had become physical challenges, so he turned to a new type of medium. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages, or decoupage. He would cut sheets of paper, pre-painted with gouache by his assistants, into shapes of varying colours and sizes, and arrange them to form lively compositions. Initially, these pieces were modest in size, but eventually transformed into murals or room-sized works. The result was a distinct and dimensional complexity—an art form that was not quite painting, but not quite sculpture.
Although the paper cut-out was Matisse’s major medium in the final decade of his life, his first recorded use of the technique was in 1919 during the design of decor for the Le chant du rossignol, an opera composed by Igor Stravinsky. Albert C. Barnes arranged for cardboard templates to be made of the unusual dimensions of the walls onto which Matisse, in his studio in Nice, fixed the composition of painted paper shapes. Another group of cut-outs were made between 1937 and 1938, while Matisse was working on the stage sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. However, it was only after his operation that, bedridden, Matisse began to develop the cut-out technique as its own form, rather than its prior utilitarian origin.
He moved to the hilltop of Vence, France in 1943, where he produced his first major cut-out project for his artist’s book titled Jazz. However, these cut-outs were conceived as designs for stencil prints to be looked at in the book, rather than as independent pictorial works. At this point, Matisse still thought of the cut-outs as separate from his principal art form. His new understanding of this medium unfolds with the 1946 introduction for Jazz. After summarizing his career, Matisse refers to the possibilities the cut-out technique offers, insisting “An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success…”
The number of independently conceived cut-outs steadily increased following Jazz, and eventually led to the creation of mural-size works, such as Oceania the Sky and Oceania the Sea of 1946. Under Matisse’s direction, Lydia Delectorskaya, his studio assistant, loosely pinned the silhouettes of birds, fish, and marine vegetation directly onto the walls of the room. The two Oceania pieces, his first cut-outs of this scale, evoked a trip to Tahiti he made years before.
Chapel and museum
In 1948, Matisse began to prepare designs for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, which allowed him to expand this technique within a truly decorative context. The experience of designing the chapel windows, chasubles, and tabernacle door—all planned using the cut-out method—had the effect of consolidating the medium as his primary focus. Finishing his last painting in 1951 (and final sculpture the year before), Matisse utilized the paper cut-out as his sole medium for expression up until his death.
In 1952, he established a museum dedicated to his work, the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau, and this museum is now the third-largest collection of Matisse works in France.
In 1963, the Matisse museum in Nice also opened its doors and, in 1970, the first retrospective of Matisse’s work in France was organized at the Grand Palais in Paris. The following year, Aragon published Henri Matisse, a novel, a collection of some twenty articles, texts and prefaces to catalogs, Aragon conferences, devoted to the painter. Matisse’s work meets the French public.
Since then, exhibitions and retrospectives have followed one another all over the world. During the exhibition at Tate Modern in London, in 2014, devoted to paper cutouts, the critic Laura Cumming of The Guardian writes: “The art of Matisse is a lesson in life, and a source of inspiration for the viewer.: this is what we should all be able, be prepared to enjoy the beauty of life even as we face the end. ”
Famous and celebrated during his lifetime, Matisse will have a preponderant influence on American painting, and in particular on the New York School, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Motherwell, but also in Germany, through the students of his academy, Marg Moll, Oskar Moll, Hans Purrmann…
To the New York First School, led by the two critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, it is fitting to add the New York Second School with figures like Frank Stella and the movement Greenberg defines as Post-Painterly-Abstraction., Colorfield Painting (Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, Jules Olitskix), or even hard edge (Kenneth Noland Mary Pinchot Meyer…).
But also the painters of Pop Art, including Warhol who declared in 1956: “I want to be Matisse”, or Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein, who will extensively quote the French painter.
In France, the influence of Matisse is found in the painters of Supports / Surfaces, and in the theoretical texts of the critic Marcelin Pleynet, like System of painting.
Another particularity is that many descendants of Henri Matisse are painters or sculptors, such as his son Jean, sculptor, his son Pierre, gallery owner, his grandchildren, Paul Matisse, sculptor, Jacqueline, artist and his great- grandchild -daughter, Sophie, painter.
In 2015, a study conducted at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble revealed to the art world that cadmium sulfide, also known as the yellow pigment of cadmium used by Matisse, is subject to an oxidation process during exposure to light, thus transforming into cadmium sulphate which is very soluble in water and above all colorless.
History of the Museum
The Villa des Arènes, whose construction work began in 1670, was completed in 1685 and was then called Gubernatis Palace, named after its owner and sponsor, Jean-Baptiste Gubernatis, consul of Nice. The villa took its current name in 1950, when the City of Nice, anxious to preserve it, bought it from a real estate company.
Inaugurated in 1963 on the second floor of the Villa des Arènes, situated within the archeological site in Cimiez, the Musée Matisse holds the artist’s and his heirs’ gifts to the City of Nice.
In 1989, the Archeological Museum, which shared the same building, moved out to its own dedicated building to launch a remodeling of the Museum. The Matisse museum could then expand: it was the subject of a vast renovation as well as an extension project which forced it to remain closed for four years.
Architect Jean-François Bodin rethought the interior spaces of the old Genovese villa and conceived the expansion that accommodated a vast foyer, an auditorium and a bookshop. The new building was inaugurated in 1993, with a new modern wing at its disposal as well as renovated spaces, which allows it to exhibit in its entirety the permanent collection, which has continued to grow since 1963 over the course of donations and deposits. successive. An educational workshop was added in 2002, a Cabinet des dessin in 2003.
The permanent collection of the museum was built up thanks to various donations, first that of Matisse in person, who lived and worked in Nice from 1917 to 1954, then those of his heirs as well as by deposits of works made by the ‘State. The museum thus brings together 68 paintings and cut-out gouaches, 236 drawings, 218 engravings, 57 sculptures and 14 illustrated books by Matisse to which are added 95 photographs, 187 objects that belonged to the painter as well as serigraphs, tapestries, ceramics, stained glass windows. and other types of documents.