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Exhibition at Stadel Museum focuses on works by Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard
Exhibition view Matisse – Bonnard: “Long Live Painting!”. Photo: Städel Museum.

FRANKFURT.- From 13 September 2017 to 14 January 2018, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt is presenting two outstanding artists – Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947) – in an exhibition that is the first in Germany to bring these key modernist masters together. At the heart of the special exhibition “Matisse – Bonnard: ‘Long Live Painting!’” is the friendship between the two French artists which lasted for over forty years. Both artists shared a preference for the same range of subjects: interiors, still lifes, landscapes and the female nude. With a selection of more than 120 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints, the exhibition opens a dialogue between Matisse and Bonnard and offers new perspectives on the development of the European avant-garde from the beginning of the twentieth century to the end of the Second World War. The selection of works is enriched by a series of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who visited the two painters in their country homes on the French Riviera in 1944.

For this year’s major autumn show, the Städel has been able to secure an array of outstanding loans from internationally renowned collections, among them the Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the State Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Also on display will be a host of major works from private collections, not normally accessible to the public. Among these, two pictures are of special importance, because each was painted by one artist and owned by the other: Pierre Bonnard’s Evening in the living room (1907, private collection) and Henri Matisse’s The Open Window (1911, private collection). They are being shown together for the first time here in Frankfurt. Another exhibition highlight is Matisse’s Large Reclining Nude of 1935, on loan from the Baltimore Museum of Art, which has not been seen in Germany for more than thirty years. This iconic nude was a milestone on the artist’s journey towards an aesthetic of highly simplified forms and is a portrait of his studio assistant and last important model, Lydia Delectorskaya. It is very likely that the painting was inspired by Bonnard’s Reclining Nude against a White and Blue Plaid (c. 1909), which it closely resembles in composition, and which has been in the collection of the Städel Museum since 1988. The opportunity to compare and contrast these two paintings was an important inspiration in designing the exhibition.

“Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard are represented in our collection by two marvellous paintings: a nude by Bonnard and a still life by Matisse,” said Philipp Demandt, Director of the Städel Museum. “Taking these two paintings as the starting point, our main exhibition for this year reveals a visual interplay between these two artists, whose influence on each other becomes unmistakable when their works are seen side by side. The exhibition continues the Städel’s successful series, where we present our visitors not only with unique masterpieces but also with new and fresh perspectives on the major protagonists of modern art.”

The exhibition has been curated by Felix Krämer, who will be taking up the post of Director at the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf from October, and co-curated by Daniel Zamani (Städel Museum). “Following the exhibition Monet and the Birth of Impressionism (2015), the Städel Museum is turning to another exciting chapter in the history of French art: the friendship between Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, which lasted over 40 years,” explains Krämer. “The exhibition brings out the creative dialogue between these two exceptional artists. It has been a long time since so many of their major works have been seen in Germany.” As Zamani points out, “Both artists developed an unmistakable and individual pictorial language, driven by their unremitting dedication to their work and life-long delight in experimentation. In their own lifetimes Matisse and Bonnard were seen as two of the most important pioneers of modern art. With Bonnard’s paintings, in particular, it is only when you come face to face with the originals that you become aware of their full fascination. It is worth visiting the Städel just for that.”

The title of the exhibition, “Long Live Painting!”, is based on the programmatic exclamation “Vive la peinture!” with which Matisse saluted his friend Bonnard on 13 August 1925. Those three words on a postcard from Amsterdam were the beginning of a correspondence that went on for more than twenty years and that testifies to the depth of the respect and appreciation the two artists felt for each other. In the first decade of the twentieth century, both artists left Paris, then the capital of the avant-garde, for the Côte d’Azur, where they continued to cement their reputation as leading lights of the European art scene. Despite the near-contiguity of their lives and careers, art historians tend to correlate the two artists with opposing trends: Bonnard’s breezy, loose brushwork and scintillating soft pastels give rise to the construct of the painter as the last great heir of Impressionism, while Matisse’s preference for strong colours and flat, heavily contoured compositions earn him the accolade of being named a pioneer of twentieth-century abstraction.

In themed chapters, the exhibition focuses on different interpretations of major artistic themes: interiors, still lifes, landscapes and nudes. The aim of presenting Matisse and Bonnard together is to allow comparative contemplation, to create a space in which commonalities and differences emerge – but not to engender any kind of competition. Such a thing would be quite at odds with the relationship between the two artists. “When I think of you, I think of a spirit freed from every traditional aesthetic convention; this alone allows a direct vision of nature, the greatest happiness to which a painter can aspire. Thanks to you, I share a little of that happiness,” wrote Bonnard to Matisse in January 1940. The value which the latter attached to the judgement of his friend is documented in a letter of November of the same year: “I ought to see someone, and you are the person I would like to see.” Matisse did not want to discuss his pictures with anyone else. Seldom have two artists complemented one another so well.

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