"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.
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 . . .
Below you see it depicted on the table in the foreground
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
The painting's reductive composition and relatively flat color are in keeping with that of The Red Studio itself
The exhibition's curator, Ann Temkim, notes that the years before The Red Studio were "Matisse's most prolific period of making sculpture"
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
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
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.)