Monday, July 18, 2022

The Red Studio at MoMA

Who doesn't love a studio visit? If you're an artist, studio visits are part of the conversation we have with other artists, with dealers--and, often, with ourselves as we enter the work space with fresh eyes for a new day. The paintings on our walls change as the work progresses. When completed paintings leave for exhibition, new canvases take their place. 

The Red Studio, 1911, oil on canvas, 62 x 83 inches, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Matisse's The Red Studio, painted in his suburban Paris studio in 1911, strikes a chord for most artists. We understand the arrangement of works--some orderly, others casual--and we are familiar with that space in the middle where we place ourselves to be surrounded by what we are making or have made. Our studios are not red, of course. But then neither was Matisse's. 

"I don't understand why I painted it," he wrote. We understand it. Matisse was ahead of this time, flattening the dimensions of his studio into a roughly five- by-seven-foot canvas, reducing the compositional elements to their barest recognizable elements, and setting those elements into a dramatic monochrome of Venetian Red. The painting was ridiculed, even burned in effigy by art students. Its first home was a mirrored London nightclub.

The Red Studio, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is the centerpiece of a delightful exhibition in which many of the objects and paintings depicted in The Red Studio are installed around it. Let me show you.

We're going to start with the ceramic plate depicted in the lower left and work our way around the painting. The installation does the same

Female Nude, 1907, tin-glazed earthenware
According to the wall text, Matisse made some 40 ceramic pieces at the invitation of Andre Metthey, whose ceramic studio was outside Paris. Just beyond this vitrine with the plate is another, with a sculpture . . .

. . . shown here: Upright Nude with Arched Back, 1906-07, terracotta
Below you see it depicted on the table in the foreground 

You'll notice the figure in the vitrine is missing its head, whereas in the painting it is fully intact. If you slip upstairs to the Matisse gallery, you'll see what it looks like cast in bronze, below


I'm showing the painting again to guide you aroud the gallery. We'll see the big pink painting at left farther down the post in a photograph on the real studio wall, so let's continue around to the reclining nude at the top of the frame

Nude with White Scarf, 1909, oil on canvas
Below, placed on the wall to your left as you view the painting, you can see its proportions
Via the wall text we learn that this work was based on studies Matisse made of the model Loulou Brouty, who posed for several of the artist's paintings

To the right of the nude in the painting and on the wall, is Young Sailor (II), 1906, oil on canvas
The painting's reductive composition and  relatively flat color are in keeping with that of The Red Studio itself

Cyclamen, 1911, oil on canvas
Next to The Young Sailor in the studio, and to the right of The Red Studio in the gallery, is this painting. Wall text suggests that it may have been painted in the greenhouse of the artist's home in Issy-les-Moulineaux, in whose studio The Red Studio was painted

Also on the right side of the painting is this sculpture, Decorative Figure, 1908, bronze
The exhibition's curator, Ann Temkim, notes that the years before The Red Studio were "Matisse's most prolific period of making sculpture"

Continuing around the gallery we come to Le Luxe (II), 1907-08, distemper on canvas
The wall text notes what we can see clearly in The Red Studio: that the same painting depicted in that work shows the figures darker and more reddish than in the original work we see here. That's because, in a literal stroke of genius, Matisse overpainted the walls and floor of the big painting in Venetian Red

Below: A watercolor sketch of the proposal Matisse made to a collector suggests that The Red Studio did not begin that way. Indeed, a conversation among MoMA's curators (video here) shows them discussing exactly that

Photograph of the interior of Matisse's studio in Issy-les-Moulineax, 1911
with closer view below

The wall text tells us that this is the only photograph of the studio during the period in which The Red Studio was painted

In this detail from The Red Studio, you can see a perspectival depiction of the large figurative work, shown above in pink and below in black and white. You can also see that Matisse seems to have taken some compositional liberties with the location of the leaning paintings, placing them to the right of the depicted painting rather than to the left as shows--unless he had several such piles



The Pink Studio, 1911, oil on canvas, app 71 x 87 inches
This painting is not in the show, but it's part of a grouping Matisse painted of his studio. The coloration, while not representative of the wood tone of the studio wall, does depict the paneling. I find it interesting that is was painted after the dramatic breakthrough of The Red Studio

Click onto the museum website to see several videos--including one that provides a history of the painting and another that's a show-and-tell conversation among the museum's curators--as well as to reserve tickets. The exhibition is up through September 10. (Go first thing in the morning, or if you're a member, during members' hours, to avoid the tourist hordes.)