Henri Matisse was a nostalgist as much as he was an innovator. A painter who remained figurative in the face of abstraction and colorful in spite of Cubism’s monochrome palette, he primarily worked in oil on canvas despite the radical material innovations of Dadaism, and throughout his career he remained committed to traditional genres like the portrait and the still life. This exhibition, which curator Rebecca Rabinow has packed with 49 paintings that Matisse made in pairs or trios between 1899-1948, shows that he clung to more than just artistic tradition—he often painted and repainted the same theme in multiple styles, sometimes halting work on one painting only to continue on another, and preserving much of his own process along the way.
“It was like one of the best rooms in the finest museum except there was a big fireplace and it was warm and comfortable and they gave you good things to eat and tea and natural distilled liqueurs.” That is how Ernest Hemingway described the living room of the expat Americans Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo at 27, rue de Fleurus, in Paris, and it is only fitting that this room can now be experienced inside one of the world’s finest museums. The Steins have arrived at the Met in the form of the sprawling and fascinating exhibition “The Steins Collect,” where the siblings’ 460-square-foot living room has been meticulously reconstructed, revealing, through photographic projections, how their collection swelled, between 1904 and 1934, from a modest grouping of nine pieces to a tightly packed installation of dozens of dazzling paintings by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and Cézanne. This living room salon, and the relationships it engendered, is at the heart of the show about the Steins, which comes to the Met after runs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (the Stein family was based in nearby Oakland) and Paris’s Grand Palais. It’s a show about the gratifications—aesthetic, intellectual, social—to be had from collecting contemporary art.
Henri Matisse was an artist for the Jazz Age, willing to practice for years in order to get a drawing right the first time, treating the obligation to entertain not as an obstacle to sophisticated experiment, but as its very foundation—or at least as an inviolable rule of the game. “Matisse and the Model,” curated by Ann Dumas for Eykyn Maclean, tracks the diligent charm, lordly insight and eternal flirtation of the artist’s gaze over half a dozen models and the course of his career, beginning, in a springily precise India ink drawing from 1944, with himself.