Matisse, His Art and His Textiles - The Fabric of Dreams

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Matisse, His Art and His Textiles - The Fabric of Dreams
Henri Matisse, Still-life with Blue Tablecloth, 1909. Oil on Canvas. 88 X 118cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, inv. 6569. Photo (c) The State Hermitage Museum
(c) Succession H Matisse/DACS 2005.

LONDON, UK.- The Royal Academy of Arts presents Matisse, His Art and His Textiles - The Fabric of Dreams, on view through May 30, 2005. Textiles were a primary source of inspiration to Matisse throughout his life. Growing up in the textile town of Bohain in northern France, Matisse started collecting fabrics from an early age. He went on to create an extraordinary collection of textiles from all over the world, from traditional French fabrics to Persian carpets, African wall-hangings, Moroccan embroideries and jackets. It is his collection of fabrics, unseen for half a century since his death, that forms the core of this exhibition. The show explores the relationship of the textiles to the paintings for the first time. In a theatrical and visually exciting display, it will present a selection of Matisse’s fabrics and costumes with some 30 paintings and a number of drawings and prints to which they relate.

Matisse, His Art and His Textiles: The Fabric of Dreams is divided into four roughly chronological sections. Alongside a display of brilliantly coloured silk swatches from Bohain is a handful of the sober low-key still-lifes that Matisse produced in his early years as a Beaux-Arts trained painter working within a northern, seventeenth century tradition. The motif of the white tablecloth runs right through this section from its appearance in his early work as a test of old-fashioned painterly skills to the moment in 1905 when it suddenly exploded into boisterous unruly colours.

The second section looks at the textiles that liberated Matisse in the most radical phase of his career before the First World War, when his prime source of inspiration was a length of flowered, cotton ‘toile de Jouy’. Starting as a simple tablecloth, it increasingly exerted its power over composition and palette as it reached out to infiltrate the entire surface of a painting, as in Still Life with Blue Tablecloth, 1906, until it finally achieved complete domination in such works as Portrait of Greta Moll, 1908, and Still Life with Blue Tablecloth, 1909.

In 1918, when Matisse began painting in Nice, he turned his various studios into a private theatre. Models in Arab robes and turbans, silk sashes and flimsy harem pants posed on divans, carpets and cushions in front of folding screens draped and dressed with lengths of fabric. Many of these are immediately recognisable from his paintings, such as the heavy pierced lattice-patterned moucharabie, and the bold red-and-green Egyptian curtain. A number of his favourite costumes are on display, among them a striped Moroccan robe with tiny buttons, embroidered Romanian blouses and a plaid silk dress in the style of Schiaparelli.

In his last decade, Matisse was galvanised by Kuba fabrics from Zaire, small raffia strips and oblongs woven into simple geometrical patterns in plain dark colours that Matisse called his ‘African velvets’ which lie behind his last great invention, the paper cut-outs. The Kuba cloths are reassembled in the original arrangement documented by the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and juxtaposed with a number of the paper cut-outs.

This exhibition has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in conjunction with the Musée Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In London, the exhibition is curated by Ann Dumas and is based on an original idea and research by Hilary Spurling, who has recently completed the second-part of her two-volume biography of Matisse (Matisse the Master published by Hamish Hamilton).

A richly illustrated catalogue, published by RA Publications, includes four essays alongside over 100 works by Matisse and numerous colourful fabrics. Authors include biographer Hilary Spurling; the Matisse scholars Jack Flam and Rémi Labrusse, and Dominique Szymusiak, Director of the Musée Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis.
Soft Back: £19.95 ISBN 1-903973-47-3.

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