Long Live Painting: A Friendship on View

Henri Matisse, Nude on a Yellow Sofa, 1926, oil on canvas, 55.1 x 80.8 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC. © Succession H. Matisse / SODRAC (2017)

 

On August 13, 1925, Henri Matisse (1869–1954) sent a postcard to Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) that read “Vive la peinture!” Simple yet effective, the gesture gave rise to a friendship that lasted more than forty years.

Today, a new exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany traces this amicable relationship through a collection of 120 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints. Highlighting their shared interests in interiors, still lifes, landscapes, and the female nude, Matisse – Bonnard ‘Long live painting!’ highlights the influence that Matisse and Bonnard had on each other as pioneers of twentieth-century modern art.

“There was a deeply personal bond between these two artists,” said Daniel Zamani, Curatorial Assistant of Modern Art at the Städel Museum in an interview with NGC Magazine. “ ‘Long Live Painting!’ provides a sense of this friendship and their sympathy towards one another.”

Organized by Felix Krämer and Zamani, the exhibition reveals that these seemingly opposing artists had comparable approaches to art. Bonnard’s Impressionist pieces, rich in pastels and soft contours, are an undoubtable contrast to Matisse’s bold and abstract compositions. However, the artists found common ground in the subject matter of their work. Opening with portraits of Matisse and Bonnard captured by photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson, Long Live Painting! explores the artists’ similarities in themed rooms across two floors.

In addition to still lifes and landscapes, both artists enjoyed depicting interior spaces, often using the window as a catalyst for an exquisite view beyond. This similarity is immediately apparent in a comparison of Matisse’s The Open Window (1911) with Bonnard’s The Window (1925), where both artists painted sunlit rooftops surrounded by lush greens.

Central to the exhibition is the exploration of the female nude — an “obsession,” says Zamani — that Matisse and Bonnard portrayed frequently in their work. Among the display of Matisse’s exotic nudes is a portrait on loan from the National Gallery of Canada.

Nude on a Yellow Sofa is one of Matisse’s most iconic paintings and is very much a highlight of the show,” says Zamani, describing the 1926 oil on canvas in which an unclothed woman lies nonchalantly on a vibrant yellow sofa. “Matisse watched his model very closely here, and developed the entire picture space from her pose.”

Bonnard’s own nudes are similarly intimate, though entirely more melancholic and gloomy. His wife served as his model for more than 400 paintings over fifty years — immortalized as a youthful figure often bathing in a dreamlike setting.

Taken in its entirety, Long Live Painting! does not encourage comparison for competition, but rather establishes an appreciation of the various ways in which Matisse and Bonnard contributed to each other’s artistic success.

“Theirs was a friendship based on appreciation, rather than a relationship based on rivalry,” concludes Zamani. We would not have known these artists as we do today without their camaraderie and capacity to influence each other’s work.

Matisse – Bonnard ‘Long live painting!’ is on view at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany until January 14, 2018.

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