We all know Matisse, or think we do. We all have seen at least one of his paintings. Or we think we have. There has been so many exhibitions of his work. Or we think there has. Or… the Paris Museum of Contemporary Art – better known as Beaubourg or the Centre Pompidou – may just have put up the ultimate Matisse show, a few street corners away from your Hotel Louvre Marsollier.
Entering Matisse. Paires et séries. (Matisse. Pairs and series.) is like entering a Mediterranean villa, with its large sunbathed bay windows and the white, solar quality of its interiors. Spring, however unwilling to pierce through the city’s screen of clouds, is already here, with Summer at its heals.
Only about 60 paintings and 40 drawings are presented in the luminous white halls, each impersonating one of the villa’s windows – windows that come in pairs. From afar, some of these seem identical, while others seem mismatched. These pairs and series, some of them reunited for the first time since leaving the artist’s workshop, bear witness to what art meant to Matisse: an obsessive, ever dissatisfied quest for the essence of creation. How strange it is to think that such a worried man produced so many images of lightness, happiness, and bliss.
Most pairs of paintings were fabricated at a very short interval, in identical formats and with identical materials. Matisse liked to call them suites. He followed his suites method throughout his career, from his earliest beginnings until the very last days. Unlike Monet – whose water lily series are well-known – Matisse was not attempting to recreate variations in light and feeling. He wanted to understand the genesis of creation, to know how far art can go, to understand when it reaches its climax.
This is exactly what this exhibition is: the climax of Matisse exhibitions. But let’s hope more are still to come…