First Matisse exhibition in SA shows modernism’s debt to the continent

First Matisse exhibition in SA shows modernism’s debt to the continent

The Standard Bank Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of works by the French modern master, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) from Wednesday, July 13, to September 17.
The exhibition includes a number of paintings, drawings, collages and prints covering all the dominant themes in the artist’s body of work – from his early Fauvist years, through his interest in exoticism and orientalism, to the paper cut-outs that he produced in the last years of his life.

The core work in the exhibition will be the full suite of twenty impressions for the prints in the artist’s book ‘Jazz’ – some of the best known and most celebrated of the artist’s works.
‘Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning’ will be the first wide-ranging exhibition of Matisse’s work to be held in South Africa, and the fourth exhibition of important twentieth-century modernists to be held at the Standard Bank Gallery.

The Gallery previously hosted monographic exhibitions focusing on the work of Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso.
“The Henri Matisse exhibition will give South Africans the rare opportunity to experience the work of one of the twentieth century’s modern masters first hand. The exhibition forms part of our continued commitment to the support and development of the arts in South Africa from the multi disciplinary Standard Bank Young Artist Awards to grass roots jazz development at the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival,” says Ben Kruger, CEO Standard Bank.
The exhibition is co-curated by Patrice Deparpe, Director of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis, and Prof Federico Freschi, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.

“It is difficult to overstate Matisse’s significance as a master of twentieth-century modernism,” says Freschi. “His inventive use of form and colour in the early years of the twentieth-century profoundly and irrevocably altered the course of modern art. Of particular interest to South African audiences is the inspiration he took from African and other non-Western art forms during the early 1900s while struggling to find a new visual language to express the particular experience of the new, modern age.”
Deparpe amplifies this theme, noting that, “With Derain, Matisse ‘discovered’ African masks, and indeed introduced them to Picasso. He travelled to North Africa, and painted, drew and sculpted many works with African-related themes. These include Algiers landscapes and odalisques, while the ‘Jazz’ portfolio – which will be shown in its entirety on this exhibition – was partly inspired by Africa.”

This theme of Western modernism’s debt to African art was amply explored in the Standard Bank Gallery’s exhibition ‘Picasso and Africa’, which engaged directly with the question of the extent of Picasso’s fascination with African art, which became for the artist a seminal reference point in the development of Cubism. Freschi continues: “‘Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning’ proposes to take this a step further, by looking at the expanded scope of Matisse’s legacy: the interest in non-traditional and ephemeral material, the interest in pattern and rhythm, and the interest in the conceptual rather than the perceptual as the primary principle governing art making.”
The works are drawn primarily from the collection of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis – which was established by Matisse himself in 1952 – and will be augmented with works from private collectors, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. An extensive educational programme, aimed at primary and secondary school learners as well as the general art-loving public, will support the exhibition.

“It is the mission of the Musée Matisse to show the works of Matisse all over the world,” says Deparpe. “Bringing a Matisse exhibition to South Africa, and indeed to Africa, for the first time, is an important part of the artist’s legacy, as he worked all his life to create an art which can be understood by anyone, whatever their cultural background. This exhibition brings together two countries that share a common ideal of liberty, and a commitment to the importance of culture in ensuring a better future for the youth.”

The core work, the Jazz prints, were prepared from cut-out paper collages that Matisse produced during the Second World War and published in 1947 with the noted art publisher, Tériade. ‘Jazz’ represents an important turning point in Matisse’s career, as it marks the transition from oil painting to paper cut-out collage that dominated the last years of his life. Matisse referred to this period as his “second life”, during which he experienced – through the medium of the paper cut-outs – a flourishing of exuberant creativity, despite his ailing health. Drawing on themes of the circus, mythology and the artist’s travels, the ‘Jazz’ prints are amongst the artist’s most immediately recognizable works, and this exhibition provides a unique opportunity for South African audiences to experience them first-hand.

Commenting on the significance of this exhibition for South African audiences, Freschi notes that, “The art of Henri Matisse has universal appeal.  At once figurative and abstract, decorative and profoundly intellectual, Matisse’s art brought into existence of new kind of harmony of unexpected elements that changed the way we view the world. In short, he found a particular kind of ‘rhythm and meaning’ that resonates across time and across cultures.”

* ‘Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning’ is presented by Standard Bank in partnership with the Embassy of France in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa, and with the support of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis, Air France, Total and Air Liquide.

Walkabouts, hosted by the arts educator Wilhelm van Rensburg will take place on:
• July 13, 15, 20, 22 and 29
• August 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26 and 31
• September 1, 7, 9, 14 and 16

The Standard Bank Gallery – located on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick streets in central Johannesburg – offers free, safe undercover parking. The gallery hours will be extended for the duration of the ‘Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning’ exhibition: Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 4.30pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 4pm. Entrance to the exhibition is free.
Visit www.standardbank.com/matisse for more information.