By Nora Quintanilla
New York, Apr 27 (EFE).- French artist Henri Matisse’s iconic painting “The Red Studio,” a work that since its creation in 1911 has sparked endless questions, will be exhibited for the first time in a century with the six other paintings and four sculptures it depicts and which were present in the artist’s Paris workshop at the time of its creation.
Starting on Thursday, New York’s Museum of Modern Art will show the 6 ft. x 7 ft. canvas, mostly in the “Venetian red” color selected by the foremost modernist artist in depicting the interior of his workshop in the Parisian suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux.
MoMA calls the piece “a foundational work of modern art and a landmark in the centuries-long tradition of studio painting,” and it will be displayed along with the other original pieces by Matisse that he included in the painting, ranging from paintings such as “Le Luxe II” (1907-08), to lesser-known works, such as “Corsica, The Old Mill” (1898), to items that have only lately been rediscovered.
Exposition curator Ann Temkin told EFE that Matisse, who was 42 in 1911, loved painting his studio but for this work he did so as a “declaration of principles” because in the eyes of society during the early years of the 20th century, he was considered to be an artist who was “controversial” and “too radical.”
The oil on canvas is an enigmatic representation of Matisse’s workspace where the several sculptures depicted are silhouetted in red while the paintings that appear are shown in bright colors.
Matisse, Temkin said, wanted to tell people who were judging him that, instead of creating a self-portrait, he was going to tell them everything about himself by showing the things he was creating.
Temkin got the idea to display “The Red Studio” (otherwise known by its French name “L’atelier rouge”) along with the objects depicted therein, an “unusual project” that could not have been undertaken if all 10 of the surviving works of art had not been gathered, a situation that meant being a “detective” and asking museums and private collectors where they all were, a task that they contributed to with “enthusiasm.”
Several of the pieces came from Denmark, where the National Gallery there will host the exposition in October, including the painting “Bathers,” which reflects Matisse’s admiration for Paul Cezanne, and “Le Luxe.”
Mystery has surrounded the piece since the very beginning, given that curators discovered that initially the painter had painted his studio in realistic colors but, once the oil was dry, he decided to cover it in red with strong brushstrokes that even left some of the brush bristles in the painted surface, as can be seen in a video of the work.
Temkin said the main issue that 100 years later continues to be surprising is that Matisse had finished the painting and then used a completely different palette to alter and “finalize” it, and we don’t know what his reasoning was.
Covering the furniture and the walls in red in the painting, except for the works of art within it, was a “crazy, adventurous, risky” idea because once Matisse started to add the red there was no going back. He had worked so hard on the original and now he was potentially ruining it, doing something with the work that nobody had ever done before, she said.
Besides creating the interior of Matisse’s studio by assembling the assorted artworks, the museum has also gathered a variety of archival materials related to the work and created a chronology of the travels of the painting from the outskirts of Paris to the time it arrived at the MoMA in 1949, a period during which it was rejected by international art critics and was displayed at a London social club before being recognized as one of the most influential pieces in modern art.
After they view the exposition, which will be open to the public through Sept. 10, the museum is encouraging visitors to sit down in a public “studio” providing paper and colored pencils to express their feelings or, like Matisse, to write or draw ideas “that unleash the imagination,” works and sketches that will then be displayed at the museum for others to enjoy.