Five important works pay homage to half a century of Matisse mastery

matisse femme

South Africans can experience 50 years of unbridled creativity during the Henri Matisse -Rhythm and Meaning exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery until September 17. It includes several key works from the artist’s oeuvre.

Patrice Deparpe, director of the Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, has highlighted five of Matisse’s most important works that will be exhibited in Johannesburg during this historic art event.

He is co-curator of the exhibition along with Federico Freschi, executive dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.

matisse Grande_Tete_Katia

The works Deparpe has selected cover the main periods in Matisse’s artistic life, from his early sculptures and his Fauvist oil paintings inspired by African art to his seminal Jazz stencil prints and paper cut-outs.

  • Le Serf (l’Esclave) (The Serf) 1900‐1903. One of Matisse’s earliest sculptures, inspired by Rodin, on the topic of freedom. The sculpture’s arms were broken off in an accident, but Matisse believed that, rather than damaging the piece, the calamity had actually rendered it more effective. From that day on, he sought to remove the superfluous from his works.
  • Marguerite au chapeau de cuir (Marguerite in a Leather Hat) 1914. This portrait of Matisse’s daughter was inspired by Fang masks from Gabon. The work exemplifies how important African art was for Matisse in the early 20th century – in fact, it was he who introduced Picasso to African art, which also went on to feature strongly in the latter’s work. During his travels in North Africa, Matisse collected objects and textiles and went on to make important works influenced by Africa.
  • Icare (Icarus), Reprint from the first plate of the book Jazz, 1947. Icare (Icarus) 1947. Eighth plate of the book Jazz. Gouache stencil print on Arches paper 42 x 65cm.  Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Matisse’s 1947 artist’s book Jazz forms the heart of the exhibition, symbolising as it does Europe’s newly regained freedom after World War II. It is also proof of the importance of music for Matisse. The jazz prints represent the freedom of making music, with the jazz musicians improvising and innovating like Matisse did in creating the paper cut-outs that make up the series.
  • Femme à la gandoura bleue (Woman with a Blue Gandurah), 1951. This, the last painting done by Matisse, shows a woman wearing a gandurah, a long, loose-flowing gown from North African – further proof of the importance of Africa’s influence on Matisse’s work. The painting will be presented with the gandurah from Matisse’s collection featured in the painting.
  • Maquette du vitrail Vigne (Maquette for Stained Glass Window, Vine) 1953. The paper cut-out Vigne is a design for a stained-glass window that was installed in the stairwell of the home of Matisse’s son Pierre in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It is a delicate work that travels very rarely. It has been included in the exhibition to celebrate a passion that France and South Africa share: the vine and wine.

Musée matisse

Henri Matisse – Rhythm and Meaning is presented by Standard Bank in partnership with the Embassy of France in South Africa and the French Institute of South Africa, and with the support of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis, Air France, Total and Air Liquide.

Free public walkabouts hosted by art educator Wilhelm van Rensburg, will take place at 1 pma nd 2 pm on July 22 and 29, August 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26 and 31; and September 1, 7, 9, 14 and 16. 

The Standard Bank Gallery – located on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick streets in central Johannesburg – offers free, safe undercover parking. Gallery parking can be booked with Sue Isaac at 011 631 4467.

The gallery hours will be extended for the exhibition: Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 4.30pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 4pm. Admission to the exhibition is free.


Henri Matisse – who today is known for his bright colours, strong outlines and flattened pictorial space – started off life as a lawyer. He began painting at the age of 21 while recuperating from acute appendicitis only to discover that he felt happier while sick and painting then when he was well and working.

Matisse was frenemies with Pablo Picasso. In the beginning they did not like each other’s work. However, they both recognised the power each had to challenge and stimulate creativity within the other. They would often produce the same subjects and even sometimes works with the same titles.

He had a lifelong interest in African art and collected African art objects. He visited Morocco in 1911 where he set up a studio in Tangier. He introduced Picasso to African art in 1907. This had a profound effect on Picasso’s development of Cubism and irrevocably altered the course of European modern art.

Matisse developed a technique he called “painting with scissors” when confined to a wheelchair during his later years.  After he could no longer stand for extended periods of time, the artist began creating works using a pair of scissors and paper. He used a long stick to assemble them on his walls until he was happy with the arrangement.

Matisse loved jazz saying, “Jazz is rhythm and meaning” and “There are wonderful things in Jazz, the improvisation, the liveliness, the being at one with the audience.” In 1947 he published a limited edition artist’s book containing prints of colourful cut paper collages, accompanied by his written thoughts and called it Jazz.

Matisse was one of the founders of the Fauvist movement. In French, the word ‘fauve’ refers to a wild beast, and comes from the critic Louis Vauxcelle’s disparaging comment on viewing an exhibition of works by Matisse and his circle in 1905, in which he commented that the work looked as if it had been produced by wild beasts.

The biggest single collection of Matisse’s work, comprising more than 500 paintings, is in the Baltimore Museum of Art in the United States and is the bequest of sisters Claribel and Etta Cone, who spent the early part of the 20th Century collecting works directly from Matisse, Picasso and their contemporaries in Paris.

Matisse’s daughter, Marguerite, was a member of the French Resistance during World War II. She was captured, tortured and was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. However, she managed to escape from the train and survived.

Many of Matisse’s most significant paintings, including La Danse, were collected by the Russian collector Sergei Schukin in the early twentieth-century. This collection is now split between the Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art.


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