Seeing Differently: Henri Matisse and Berenice Abbott

The Phillips Collection engages with local voices by asking community members to write labels in response to works in the collection. Read some here on the blog and also in the galleries of Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century. How do these perspectives help you see differently? What would you write about these artworks?

Henri Matisse, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948, Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1950

“Would not it be best to leave room to mystery?” I think of this quote by Henri Matisse when I stand in front of one of his artworks about “room” or “space.” Whenever I look at this artwork, I cannot help but wonder: Who does this room belong to? Who is the woman? What is she thinking lying on the couch? What is in the space not shown in the painting? Matisse is right—it is good to leave some room for mystery.

Matisse said: “A certain blue enters your soul. A certain red has an effect on your blood pressure.” Notice Matisse’s use of color. Imagine standing in this studio. What do you feel as you look at this artwork?

—Xiran Liu, Visitor Experience Intern, The Phillips Collection


Berenice Abbott, Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place, 1936, Gelatin silver print, 9 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2001, The Phillips Collection

Imagine being a worm (or creature close to the ground) and looking up in the city. What do you see? In New York City, with all the tall buildings, we each have a worms-eye view of the city as we constantly look up at the towering skyscrapers.

When I think of New York City, I think of the crowds of people and the inability to stop time. And yet this artist so beautifully captures the stillness and power of the buildings of New York and the conversation among them. The scene is at Exchange Place downtown. What exchange might these three buildings be having with each other?

Place yourself in the scene of the photograph. On the street, looking up. What does this photograph tell you about the city?

—Joanne Selig, Director of Education and Theatre for Change, Imagination Stage

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