Matisse as Printmaker: Works from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation opened April 6, 2014 at the Memorial Art Gallery
and remains on view through June 8. Drawn from the extraordinary collection of Matisse prints that once belonged to the artists son Pierre, the exhibition includes 63 etchings, monotypes, aquatints, lithographs, black and white linocuts, and two-color printsexamples of every printmaking medium used by Matisse. With its rich variety of media and subject matter, Matisse as Printmaker sheds new light on an under-studied aspect of Matisses oeuvre and underscores the importance of printmaking for the artist.
Recognized foremost as a painter and sculptor, French master Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was also deeply engaged throughout his career in exploring other mediums and the unique possibilities they offered for creative expression. Matisse saw printmaking as an extension of drawing, which was integral to the whole of his art. As Jay Fisher, guest curator of Matisse as Printmaker, writes in the exhibition catalog, Printmaking was Matisses primary means of demonstrating to his audience his working process, the character of his vision, and the way his drawing transformed what he observed.
Matisses involvement with printmaking was both intense and innovative as he moved from one technique to the next, adopting new approaches to reflect the evolution of his artistic ideas. Almost all of his prints involve serial imagery, such as the development of a reclining figure, the integration of models within interiors, the study of facial expressions and features, and the transformation of a subject from a direct representation to something more abstract. Printmaking captured the phases of Matisses artistic processa process that resulted in a refined image of his subject.
For Matisse, printmaking was also a practical means of disseminating his art among the many avid collectors of his work. Despite their relatively wide distribution, Matisses prints are remarkable for the aura of intimacy and immediacy they communicate. The relative ease with which the prints could be produced enabled Matisse to work freely and spontaneously, often creating casual portraits of family members and friends in his studio, where he had installed his own printing press.
Apart from his book illustrations, Matisse was mostly faithful to the tradition of black and-white prints; but in his last years, he made two prints in color, both included in the exhibition.
Moving from one medium to another, Matisse made prints fairly consistently from 1900 until his death in 1954. During the course of his career, he produced more than 800 images, often in editions of 25 or 50. This great profusion of images expanded the reach of his art and has helped cement his position as one of the preeminent artists of the 20th century.
Although Matisse was deeply engaged in the practice of printmaking, most of the exhibitions and research on the artists work to date have focused on his paintings and sculpture. With its diverse selection of works from different periods in Matisses career, Matisse as Printmaker provides a comprehensive examination of the artists relationship with the printmaking medium and the role it played in the evolution of his visual ideas. The exhibition offers a persuasive argument that Matisses prints merit appreciation and consideration not only in relation to his painting but in their own right.