Matisse 'makes you happy'
Large collection of artist's work part of big display at Indianapolis Museum of Art
In 1906 in Paris, art collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein introduced their friends, sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, to the French artist Henri Matisse.
For the next 40 years, the Cone sisters of Baltimore tapped their family wealth to acquire from the artist more than 500 of his paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and illustrated books, as well as work by other artists of the time.
"Matisse had a really good relationship with the Cone sisters and would send them photographs of his process and studies," said Candace Gwaltney, public relations manager at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where a selection from the Cone collection is on view through mid-January. "He even came to the U.S. for one of their funerals."
After Claribel's death in 1929, Matisse helped Etta, who died in 1949, continue to build her family's holdings of his art. As a result, she acquired many of his exemplary pieces from the 1930s, among them "The Yellow Dress," "Interior with Dog," "Large Reclining Nude (aka "The Pink Nude") and "Purple Robe and Anemones."
Those are among the more than 100 works in "Matisse, Life in Color: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art" at the Indianapolis museum.
The two institutions organized the beautifully designed show, and in addition to the varied art pieces are huge photographs of the artist as a young, middle-aged and then elderly man, as well as two smaller self-portraits, both drawings.
The exhibition — which proved so popular the museum has extended its hours — offers a good sense of Matisse and his artistic development, from his struggle to break free of the naturalistic style he learned at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to his later abstract work and paper cutouts.
Often spoken of in the same breath as Pablo Picasso, Matisse (1869-1954) created his own inimitable style, known primarily for color and patterns. Along the way, his stylistic innovations altered the course of modern art.
As an artist, he aimed to express the emotion he felt in his subjects, rather than create literal representations, and to create art that expressed balance and serenity.
His works often give the impression that they came effortlessly to him.
But they didn't.
Matisse actually reworked and reworked his compositions — one example in the exhibition is the series of more than 20 drawings, or studies, for "The Pink Nude," perhaps the best-known piece in the show.
Another example is the oil painting "The Yellow Dress."
"He dated it 1929-31 because he wanted you to know he worked on it for two years," Gwaltney said, adding that during that time he would shift to other media like sculpture and drawing.
On view in the final gallery is a copy of Matisse's famous artist book, "Jazz" (1947), as well as 20 illustrations from it.
They show the simplified shapes and colors of his paper cutout technique, which he used late in his life, when illness prevented him from standing for long periods at his easel.
Besides the art, the exhibition features videos — one from 1945 showing Matisse drawing three different portraits of his young grandson.
There also are iPad stations where people may "interact" with Matisse's art, and other stations where one can learn about the Cone sisters, who had the most comprehensive collection in the world of Matisse's work.
The show closes with a floor-to-ceiling, black-and-white photograph of Matisse on his deathbed, famously using a long stick, to which charcoal or graphite is attached, to draw on the wall.
Among appreciative visitors to the show last month was Charlie Adams, a watercolor artist from Richmond, Ind. He called the show — as well as Matisse's art — wonderful.
"His works appears so simple, but is so incredibly amazing and expressive," Adams said. "It makes you happy just looking at it."
Which would make Matisse glad. According to the audio guide, which is free with admission, he once said he wanted to make art that is not depressing.
If you go
What: "Matisse, Life in Color: Masterworks from The Baltimore Museum of Art," organized by the Baltimore museum, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
When: Through Jan. 12 with recently extended hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 28; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 30 (only the first and second floors of the museum will be open that day; the museum is usually closed Mondays); 11 a.m. Jan. 4; and 11 a.m. to midnight Jan. 11.
Where: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road
Tickets: $18 per adult; $10 for students with a student ID and youths ages 7-17; free for children 6 and younger
Note: Tickets are for specific times and may be purchased at the museum or online at bit.ly/14PPBuz.
Information: imamuseum.org/matisse; 317-923-1331; 317-920-2660 (24-hour information line)