Henri Matisse - The Sorrows of the King, 1952
Cut-out gouached paper, 292 x 386 cm - © Estate of H. Matisse
Photo: Centre Georges Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
“I am a most enthusiastic supporter of the project of Marie-Thérèse Pulvénis de Seligny to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Musée Matisse by presenting the exhibition “Matisse. Music at work”. Music is indeed one of the recurrent iconographic themes in the work of Henri Matisse. As for his musicality, it is for us to show in the exhibition its subtle manifestations. I would like to thank those who have agreed to support this wonderful project by loaning works, in particular the Centre Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne which agreed, exceptionally, to loan The Sorrows of the King, a work in which I have always seen a sort of modern reflection of Domenichino’s King David Playing the Harp which hung in the bedroom of Louis XIV, a great king who, like David, loved music and knew that he was always a sinner, always repentant, always forgiven…”
On the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, the Musée Matisse presents the exhibition “Matisse.
Music at work”, a theme which runs throughout the painter’s work and is closely linked to his presence in Nice. This subject enables homage to be paid to the painter’s family whose successive donations led to the creation of the museum in 1963.
“Music and colour are certainly quite different, yet they follow parallel routes”. Notes and colours result from the same seeking after expression. Matisse refers to music to evoke his compositions, themes, rhythms, variations, harmony of colours.
The exhibition is organised in two parts:
- the silence of music recalls the intimate link between Matisse and music and the different ways in which he represents it in his work;
- the sound of colour illustrates the correspondence the painter perceives between colour and sound.
The prestigious loan of The Sorrows of the King (1952) granted exceptionally by the Centre Pompidou-Musée National d’Art Moderne, on the occasion of the museum’s fiftieth anniversary, provides a majestic opening for the exhibition.
This work in cut-out gouached paper is part of the Matisse creations which were produced in a large format. It represents David entertaining King Saul with his music. At a culminating point of the painter’s art, The Sorrows of the King, produced in Nice in the last years of his life, at the Hotel Regina, near the museum, is both a synthesis of the work of Matisse and a perspective on Contemporary Art.
The exhibition allows you to follow, stage by stage, the relations between music, design and colour in a rich and harmonious ensemble of variations.
Matisse played the violin from personal choice, but also for unexpected reasons: “In Nice, in 1918 […] he began to study the violin very seriously, […] it was because I feared I might lose my sight and no longer be able to paint”.
Matisse found in music a rigorous method and a precise technique which corresponded to his way of working.
The preparatory drawing for the painting of the Violinist at the Window, produced 1917 during his first visit to Nice, a period of questioning for Matisse, represents his son Pierre, playing the violin, looking out at the infinite horizon of the sea, illustrating the feeling of search and escape which music offers. In 1918-1919, the painting Interior with a
Violin, uses the mystery represented by an empty, open violin case and a luminous blue, to suggest the infinite sources of inspiration generated by music.
Music has a place in the everyday life of the painter just as it has in his work. In 1917, at Issy-les-Moulineaux, Matisse painted his elder daughter, Marguerite, sitting at the piano with her brother Pierre in front of a piece by Haydn. Each of the painter’s children played a musical instrument: Marguerite the piano, Jean the cello and Pierre the violin.
From the 1920s, in Nice, Matisse depicted in certain paintings representing the interior of his studio-apartment in Place Charles-Félix elements related to music such as a gramophone or some violins. In this familiar environment, he painted musical sessions with his model Henriette playing the piano, alone in Little Pianist, Blue Dress, and surrounded by her brothers in Pianist and Checker Players, in1924. Some instruments, like the harmonium, become the central subject of a painting and are portrayed in the manner of a portrait. The shape and the aesthetic nature of musical instruments gives the painter the opportunity for new interpretations as in La Desserte of 1915 in the style of the copy of Dadidz de Heem, of 1893.
In numerous paintings, Matisse uses musical instruments as decorative elements accompanying the models and contributing to the curves and arabesques of the composition, as in The Moorish Screen, 1921-1922.
For Matisse, the movement of the musician is similar to that of the engraver or draughtsman.
“[…] Gouging, like bowing, is directly related to the sensitivity of the engraver”. Playing the violin requires discipline which for Matisse is related to the essential precision in the movements of the draughtsman.
[1This special relationship between Matisse and music develops into a path through the themes of: music and dance, line and melody, Jazz, Themes and Variations, music from elsewhere, the orchestration of the Chapel of Vence, the sound of colour, music and colour as a source of harmony.
This rich itinerary will be made up of works from museums such as MoMA in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, the Musée de l’Orangerie, the BnF in Paris, the Musée Matisse in Cateau-Cambrésis, the Emile Hugues Foundation in Vence, the Ballets of Monte Carlo, the Bibliothèque Musicale François-Lang, Asnières-sur-Oise, the Dominican Congregation of the Rosary in Vence, the Théodore Stravinsky Foundation of Geneva, as well as from private collections.
The exhibition progresses towards the monumental ceramic La Piscine, donated by Claude and Barbara Duthuit in 2011. In accordance with the wishes of his mother, Marguerite Duthuit, the daughter of Matisse, Claude Duthuit had La Piscine created in ceramic by ceramist Hans Spinner based on the composition in cut-out gouached paper of 1952, which had been preserved in the MoMA in New York. Matisse conceived La Piscine as a source of mental freshness. For many weeks, he moved the shapes of bodies in blue paper over a band of white paper hung on the walls. With La Piscine, the art of Matisse takes a new direction, moving from an ensemble of shapes and colours juxtaposed on a flat surface, to an environment, such as the Chapel in Vence of 1951.
Marie-Thérèse Pulvénis de Seligny
Henri Matisse - La Piscine - Ceramic
height.: 2.30m; length left panel: 8.47m; length right panel: 7.96 m
Collection of the Musée Matisse, Nice - Donated by Claude and Barbara Duthuit, 2011.
© Estate of H. Matisse - Photo: Archives Henri Matisse