Met Exhibit Review: 'Matisse: In Search of True Painting' Uncovers the Artist's Process


The Met’s current exhibition "In Search of True Painting" showcases the work of Henri Matisse from the early 1900s throughout WWII. Forty-nine colorful paintings make up the exhibition and are examples of Matisse's artistic process and methodology. The works are evidence that Matisse was always looking to see his compositions in a new perspective. By painting the same subject multiple times Matisse was able to reveal things he previously had not seen before, practice different techniques, and create a scale of work to gauge his progress. Each painting in the show is optically engulfing, lush in color, and so wonderfully Matisse. 


Entering the exhibit we are presented with paintings of still lifes, portraits, nude subjects, and exotic landscapes from his time in Saint Tropez and Morocco. These works show us how Matisse borrowed stylistic elements from his neo-impressionist contemporaries such as Paul Signac’s application method, Cezanne’s simplification of tone values, Gauguin’s effect of the composition’s plane, and Van Gogh’s expressive lustrous use of color. Highlights of these rooms included his 1904 painting “Luxe, calme, et volupté,” his three nude studies “Le Luxe” from 1907, and his ever popular portrait of “Young Sailor II” from 1906. 


The next rooms we’re introduced to contain works of similar subject matter. Three views of Notre-Dame Cathedral are hung on the wall, each with similar vantage points but different styles and with dates ranging from 1900, 1902, and 1914. We see this continue with his still-life paintings of a vase of ivy and a bowl of goldfish. Though the same subject, each depicts Matisse’s various ways of studying the light and colors of the composition, making the works unique. 


In the mid-1900s Matisse began to explore concepts of interior and exterior space primarily shown through the depiction of windows. “Interior at Nice (Room at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage)” from 1917 is juxtaposed to his “Interior at Nice (Room at the Hôtel Méditerranéée),” similar in subject, they are other examples of Matisse’s ritual of re-studying and re-painting the same subject in a variety of ways to compare the different effects, styles, and colors. 


In 1937 Matisse hired a photographer to document, in a time-lapse fashion, his progress on his portrait "Large Blue Dress." The photographs revealed how his canvas morphed until completion. Matisse used these photographs as guides to determine the quality of his progress. We are shown the actual blue skirt Lydia Delectorskaya wore for her portrait and alongside are the time-lapse photographs and the final painting.


Near the end of his career, Matisse was honored in the Paris Salon d’Automne in a retrospective showcasing six of his works along with black and white photographs (using time-lapse photography) depicting the process of the painting up until the final brush stroke. The Met re-created three of the walls from the Salon d’Automne to simulate the look of the retrospective. 

During WWII, Matisse left Paris and worked from La Villa Le Reve in Vence. Here he created paintings with color he described as the “the most vivid and rich” and that “impressed everyone who has seen them.” Matisse had reached a point in his career where his works seemed to have fully developed. His method of questioning, repainting, and perfecting his style is demonstrated in his beautiful works from this period such as “Interior with an Egyptian Curtain” and “Large Red Interior” both from 1948.


I definitely recommend visiting the Met to see this exhibit. Not only do you learn about how involved Matisse was in his art, but the paintings are so colorful they will brighten up any grey Manhattan day.

"In Search of True Painting" is open until March 17, 2013.