Pulling Back the Curtain on Matisse

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940.

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940.

As mentioned in an earlier post, during my trip abroad I visited the Centre Pompidou to see the recently closed exhibition Matisse: Pairs and Sets. The show included the Phillips’s Interior with Egyptian Curtain; my photo below taken in the bookshop shows how editors at Dossier de l’Art hors-série decided to put it on the cover of their exhibition feature!

Though Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916), another Matisse in The Phillips Collection, wasn’t included in the exhibition, the display shed new light on that painting for me. The orange curtain on the far right of the picture has always beckoned me, saying: “Open me and come look out the window.” And thanks to this exhibition, I was finally able to see the Seine and the view of Notre Dame that Matisse enjoyed when working at his studio through a painting owned by a Swiss museum as well as one owned by MoMA.

I also loved discovering the other objects Matisse placed on a table that you see near the center of the Phillips’s picture. The exhibition included two paintings in which the artist had replaced the tray and glass with a plant and goldfish. An example from the Centre Pompidou even has a similar view through the window as the Phillips’s Studio Quai, Saint-Michel.

Congenial Spirits: Matisse and Marioni

At first glance you may not consider the curatorial placement of Joseph Marioni’s Yellow Painting (2003) and Green Painting (2002) flanking Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) in the next gallery. But look again . . .

Henri Matisse's Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) on view in the gallery just beyond Joseph Marioni's green and yellow paintings. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

When standing and simultaneously viewing all three paintings from a distance, the shared palette becomes very apparent. Marioni’s paintings begin to vibrate against the walls. The green and yellow echo the edges of the Studio window and ceiling. The red tapestry under Matisse’s Italian model, Lorette, suddenly comes to life. Marioni’s rectangular canvases mimic the window panes that captured the view onto Quai Saint-Michel. In our galleries, rather than peering out on the Seine or the palace of Justice, we look further into the layers and depths of color.

On a tour at the Phillips in October, the artist expressed the significance of Matisse in the installation, describing Studio, Quai Saint-Michel as a “key piece.” According to Marioni, Matisse was one of the first artists to champion early modern color, the emotional context of color as well as the shift from representation to abstraction.

Alice Shih, Gallery Educator

Marioni's Green Painting makes Matisse's colors pop. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender