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The Standard Bank Gallery is pleased to present the first major showcase of the art of Henri Matisse on the African continent. The Gallery has previously exhibited a number of important European modernist artists, including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Joan Miró. Picasso and Africa (2006) explored the well-known influence of African art forms and styles on so-called ‘Western’ modernism. As Federico Freschi, co-curator with Patrice Deparpe. Federico Freschiof Henri Matisse: Rhythm and Meaning, affirms, “A decade later, it is opportune to complicate the somewhat essentialist questions (and criticisms) posed by the Picasso exhibition.”
The range of material collected for this exhibition will allow visitors to engage with the broad range and scope of the artist’s work. At the end of the nineteenth century, Matisse was a young man struggling to gain access to the ‘official’ French art world. By 1905, he was known as a fauve (wild beast) who was bold in his use of colour and was not afraid to depart from the conventions of realism. After the First World War, he was among the French artists who followed the call to “return to order” instead of pursuing their experimentation with
abstraction. Yet Matisse’s desire to explore new forms of representation also drove him to travel from Morocco and Algeria to Tahiti. A committed collector, he brought back with him objects and textiles, which found their way into his artworks in his never-ending pursuit of a new visual language.
In his “second life” during the Second World War and until his death in 1954, Matisse developed distinct but now iconic methods and styles: the simple lines of his portraits and the colourful motifs of his cut-out collages and prints. The plates from his 1947 book Jazz can be appreciated both as a distraction from the grim economic environment and the general sense of despair that followed the war (“I want people who are tired, worried, frazzled, to experience calm and rest in front of my work,” Matisse declared) and as an expression of the great anxieties of the 1940s – a number of the images seem to express his anxieties about the war.
Ultimately, however, Matisse was not bound by his historical context. Viewing his work in South Africa in 2016, we can appreciate the ways in which he both contributed to and challenged European modernism as it developed over the first half of the twentieth century. We can remain aware of the problematic politics of modernist ‘appropriation’ of African or other non-European cultures and art forms. But we are also free to gain pleasure from the striking colours, simple lines and basic forms we find in Matisse’s work – enjoying them, as the artist recommended, in the same way that we would enjoy sitting in “a good armchair”.
The Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning exhibition is co-curated by Patrice Deparpe, Director of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis and Federico Freschi, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.
Henri Matisse | Rhythm and Meaning is presented by Standard Bank in partnership with the Embassy of France in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa, and with the support of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis, Air France, Total and Air Liquide.
Matisse Walkabouts will be hosted by Wilhelm van Rensburg at the Standard Bank Gallery from 13:00 to 14:00 on the following days:
July: 13, 15, 20, 22 and 29
August: 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, and 31
September: 1, 7, 9, 14 and 16
Monday to Friday: 8am to 4:30pm
Saturday: 9am to 4pm