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Culture news, 04.08.2004 12:52

An exhibition in the series "Masterpieces from the World's Museums in the Hermitage".

world_masterpieces 21 May 2004 - 20 August 2004

The exhibition in the Nicholas Hall (No. 191) presents a masterpiece by Henri Matisse from the Musee d'Art moderne (Paris) - a large decorative panel which occupies a special place in European painting of the 20th century.

It was commissioned in 1930 by the American collector Albert Barnes and is one of three existing versions made by Matisse between 1931 and 1933. Barnes proposed that the artist use a rather unusual and complicated space for the composition - lunettes over the windows in a room with arched vaults. He allowed the artist to choose the subject and technique for its execution on his own. Up until then Matisse's most important decorative works were the canvases "The Dance" and "The Music" (1909-1910), created for the Russian collector S.I. Shchukin. In choosing once again the subject of "The Dance", Matisse initially used the motif of a circular dance, but his first sketches already revealed an evolution - from the circular dance we see in the painting for Shchukin to architectonics of a completely new order. Realizing that the participants in the choreographic scene should turn into building blocks for a decoration that was integrated firmly into the arthitecture, Matisse reinterpreted them for a monumental composition.

In creating "The Dance" (Paris version), Matisse made use of a technique he had not tried earlier - "decoupages": taking sheets painted in gouache, he cut out figures or pieces of background and fixed them with pins to a foundation of charcoal drawings. Using this technique, any given piece could be quickly replaced. The last step was to apply paint to the canvas He did this with the help of a decorator who followed his instructions.

The exhibition is complemented by a display entitled "Matisse. The Images of Mallarme." Stephane Mallarme's "Poems" in the collection of the Hermitage constitute the master's first attempt to work in the field of art books ("livre d'art"). Matisse collaborated with him on this at the same time as he was busy working on "The Dance", i.e. in 1931-32. In 1930 the artist received an order from the Swiss publisher Albert Skeer to take charge of the design of "Poems". Matisse made around 60 illustrations in form of etchings, 29 of which found their way into the final version of the book, which was published in Lausanne in 1932. A "livre d'art" is a variety of book that was distributed in the 20th century; it presupposes the artist's involvement in developing all the elements going into the design of the book. Matisse saw his role as not merely illustrating but in creating an ensemble of elements including print, composition, and layout of the text on the page, all of which were the result of conscious choices by the artist. One item of special care by the master was the composition of the double-page: the visual balance between the verses and illustrations placed next to them. What was novel in Matisse's approach was the juxtaposition of a compact square composed of text in Italics and a light drawing full of movement. As a result the composition of the double-page appeared to be balanced but not devoid of dynamics. The artist compared his work with the art of a jungler.

Matisse's images are inspired by the poetry of Mallarme and exist in a parallel life with it , like two equal voices in a musical score.

The exhibition has been organized by the State Hermitage and the Musee d'Art moderne (Paris) with support from the Mayor's office of Paris, the Embassy of the French Republic in Russia and the General Consulate of the French Republic in St Petersburg.

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