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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
Exploring the mystique of Matisse
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Exploring the mystique of Matisse

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Editor

COLLECTING MATISSE AND MODERN MASTERS
VANCOUVER ART GALLERY
Through September 30


The French painter Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse (1869-1954) is, without question, one of the greatest artists in the world of Modernist and Impressionist art. Noted for his use of vivid colors, he was acknowledged during his lifetime as a true master. His patrons have included Albert C. Barnes, Edgar Degas, and the Cone sisters, Etta and Claribel. It is the Cone collection that forms the basis of a new exhibit at the Vancouver (B.C.) Art Gallery, on display through September.

'Matisse's use of color is really unique within 20th-century painting,' says gallery curator Ian Thom. 'He had a sense of joie de vivre that people responded to.' It was this quality that allowed him to form solid relationships with his patrons.

Matisse began to study painting in 1891 in Paris and became a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. From the beginning, his work showed a certain style not unlike Picasso or van Gogh.

'He [Matisse] is a very different artist from Picasso,' says Thom, 'but they did play off each other, and you can see the influence in Matisse's work.' His paintings quickly caught the eye of several collectors, including Gertrude Stein as well as the aforementioned Cone sisters.

The exhibit, Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, celebrates 28 works by Matisse and several other contemporary masters of the time. Picasso is represented, along with van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, Courbet, and the American artist Theodore Robinson - the painting that started the Cone collection.

The exhibit is well laid out, with soft lighting and interesting (if not amusing) plaques written by one of the curators for each work of art. Included are not just paintings, but drawings, sketches, personal artifacts, and even letters corresponding with and about the artist. In one such letter, Etta Cone asks Matisse, 'Did I discover you or did you discover me?' She and Claribel met Leo Stein, and subsequently his sister Gertrude, on an early art-buying trip to Paris in 1905. Within the next year they met, and became patrons of, both Picasso and Matisse. (Etta fell in love with and became romantically involved with Stein until Alice Toklas entered the scene.)

Planning any exhibit isn't easy. 'There were long negotiations between us, Baltimore [the Cone sisters' estate], and the Jewish Museum of New York,' says Thom. 'But these pieces give a real sense of character of what [Claribel and Etta's] collection was like.'

The curator explains that the exhibit is 'not a collection about difficult art. There are no Cubist works represented, as the sisters didn't like abstract art much. It's a carefully thought-out collection that is responsive to form and color. Many of the paintings are vivid and respond to the refined sense of line, as in the Picasso material and Matisse drawings.'

The Kahns were a German-Jewish family led by the patriarch Herman. They Americanized their name upon immigrating to the United States in the 1840s, and eventually founded a dry goods/textile company. The firm, Cone Mills Corp., became a major supplier of textiles to the U.S. military during World War I and for a time was the sole denim supplier to Levi Strauss & Co.

Claribel's and Etta's Baltimore apartments were next door to each other, and their walls became literally lined with more than 3,000 artworks, including 113 by Picasso and more than 500 by Matisse. By the time of their deaths in 1929 (Claribel) and 1949 (Etta), it was the largest known private collection in existence. Information on the exhibit is available at www.vanartgallery.bc.ca.

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