Today’s grant announcement from the National Endowment of the Arts brings BMA Senior Curator Katy Rothkopf another step closer to realizing her dream of pairing the work of French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and American artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993).
Katy first conceived the idea for the exhibition many years ago as part of the BMA’s ongoing commitment to studying Matisse’s work. She saw two drawings of a reclining woman in the BMA’s collection by both artists and noticed an unmistakable similarity between the Frenchman’s and American’s work. Yet these images were created four decades and two continents apart. Since then, Katy has examined many artworks that show resonances between the two painters. She also made several trips to California to meet with the Diebenkorn family, including the artist’s widow before she passed this year, and even got to see the Diebenkorn’s extensive personal collection of books about Matisse.
Diebenkorn was introduced to Matisse’s work in the early 1940s, then immersed himself in the French master’s work in 1952 when a major retrospective of the artist’s paintings came to Los Angeles. He was completely taken by the color and structure of the oil paintings and inspired by Matisse’s willingness to show evidence of his creative process, and began to seek out examples of his work whenever he could. The effect on his work was transformational. A subsequent Matisse exhibition in 1966 captivated Diebenkorn even further.
Matisse’s emphasis on geometric structure, spatial relationships, and a bold, colorful painting style was of great importance to Diebenkorn. Both artists loved to show both the inside and outside in their compositions, often focusing on windows or doorways that include views beyond. In Window, Diebenkorn pays homage to Matisse at his most radical, combining a subject that was a favorite of both artists with pared down detail and broad, geometric fields of color. The decorative wrought iron grille and solitary chair in Window further link the composition to Matisse, who made many paintings of his home and studio that included these elements, such as in Goldfish and Palette of 1914.
Fast-forward a decade later, the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibition is now being co-organized by the BMA and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for presentations on each coast in 2016-2017. This landmark exhibition will bring together more than 80 paintings and drawings by Matisse and Diebenkorn from museums and private collections around the world. Seeing these two great artist’s works paired side-by-side for the first time is an event everyone wants to be a part of.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a color catalogue with images of all of the works featured, as well as additional illustrations for the introduction by the distinguished Matisse scholar John Elderfield and essays by Katy Rothkopf and SFMOMA Curator Janet Bishop.
In addition to works from the BMA’s and SFMOMA’s collections, stellar examples of each artist’s work are being loaned by the Musée National d’Art Moderne Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York.