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Encounters with Matisse at successful exhibition at Stedelijk

With 'The oasis of Matisse', the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has put on a magnificent exhibition. Sixty years after there was last a major retrospective of Matisse in the Netherlands, his work is back on display in all its glory. So alongside 'Late Rembrandt' at the Rijksmuseum, there is another blockbuster in the capital. The thousands of visitors who have just admired the Dutch master can turn right around towards Museumplein to immerse themselves in the light, lightness and cheerful carefreeness of the French master.

Henri Matisse (1868-1954) is considered the master of light, decoration, odalisques and arabesques. He himself could sometimes lie awake wondering how to achieve this apparent simplicity. But he succeeded. If you now see 'Black leaf on red background', a 1952 'cut-out', you will see a leaf. But a plant motif like no one drew. Yet you immediately recognise two things: Matisse and a leaf. Such is the wonderful and admirable purity of Matisse.

Black leaf on red background.
'Black leaf on red background' by Henri Matisse. 1952. gouache on paper, cut out and pasted on paper, 50×40 cm. Private collection.


The Stedelijk Museum has put up an extraordinarily inspiring exhibition. The museum was able to do this precisely because it was closed for many years. Back then, it was generous with loans. And that is now paying off. Museums from all over the world sent their public favourites to Amsterdam. Now a hundred works from all over the world are on show here, from Los Angelos, Moscow, Stockholm, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Basel, Brussels, New York, Philadelphia, London. And also from Le Cateau-Cambresis, the northern French village where Matisse was born 1869.


'The oasis of Matisse' starts on the ground floor, with the youngest works and ends upstairs, with the cuttings ('cut-outs') from the last years of his life. Downstairs, all Matisse's works, from different periods, hang among those by other artists, from the museum's own collection. These are either contemporaries or artists who were his teachers. Or just imitators he inspired. Throughout the exhibition, the combinations have a reinforcing effect. They are encounters in colour, light and time. You would probably never have thought of some of the combinations yourself. Ever thought of Karel Appel next to Matisse? While Karel Appel was indeed impressed by the colour sensations brought about by Matisse. Appel and Matisse hang hand in hand here. And it works.

'Seated girl' by Karel Appel. 1948. Oil on cardboard, 85x55 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
'Seated girl' by Karel Appel. 1948. Oil on cardboard, 85×55 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

It produces more beautiful combinations. The colour schemes sometimes fit surprisingly well and also the subjects are chosen in such a way that there must have been mutual inspiration. You can see this clearly with Kirchner, for instance, who must have seen 'Standing Nude' from 1907 at a Matisse exhibition in Berlin. Kirchner's canvases and sculptures are clearly related to Matisse. In their use of colour, angularity and use of black lines, they fit together beautifully. And you can see how Matisse briefly flirts with Cubism in his 1914 'Vue de Notre-Dame' (from the Moma in New York). Especially now that it is presented alongside Mondrian, this link is extremely powerful.


Another eye-opener is the room where Rothko and Matisse hang side by side. Perfectly obvious. Rothko was a great admirer of Matisse. He is known to have gone to the MoMa in New York for weeks at a time to view a painting by Matisse. That was not the painting now hanging between two Rothko's (The Goldfish, from 1912), but you can see that the light and colours work. No need to write whole essays about this. Just look closely and you understand that it's right. That there has always been interaction in art, whether from contemporaries, or whether predecessors have been influential. It has happened in every possible form.


In this way, you have never seen the Stedelijk's collection before. This arrangement is both enriching for Matisse and for the collection itself. In this way, the Stedelijk's collection also ends up in an oasis of beauty, tranquillity, colour and light.

And not only that. Being able to see 'Femme en bleu' from 1937 'just like that' in Amsterdam is just fantastic. Or 'Nature morte a la corbeille d'oranges' from 1912, which usually hangs at the Musee Picasso in Paris. The colours burst from this. Interesting, too, to learn, thanks to Abdelkader Benali's booklet 'The blue of the sea and the blue of the city', which accompanies the exhibition, that he painted this in Tangier in 1912. And just because it was raining and it was grey and dreary outside, he sought his colours inside his hotel. In the popping colours of oranges from Morocco.


Henri Matisse's sheaf, 1953. Gouache o ppaper, cut out and pasted on paper. 294x350 cm. Collection University of California, Los Angeles.
Henri Matisse's sheaf, 1953. Gouache o ppaper, cut out and pasted on paper. 294×350 cm. Collection University of California, Los Angeles.

Hanging on the second floor are Matisse's cuttings, with the centrepiece being 'The Parakeet, the Mermaid' from the Stedelijk's own collection. And around it, you can see how Matisse developed with his cuttings even at a late age and discovered completely innovative art forms in his exploration of light, form and colour. This needs no explanation. Just immerse yourself in this sumptuous bounty of form and colour. And step into Matisse's oasis.

Good to know
Matisse's oasis. Tm 16 August at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. A surcharge of 5 euros applies for the exhibition. It is recommended to buy tickets (online) prior to visiting. Opening hours: daily 10am-6pm. Thursday 10am-2pm. The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue 'The oasis of Matisse'. Price 25 euros, 288 pages. Also appearing is the children's book 'The parakeet, the mermaid and the battle' by Annemarie van Haeringen. Price 14.99 euros. Also appearing is 'The blue of the sea and the blue of the city' by Abdelkader Benali. Price 9.99 euros.


Madeleine Red

Madeleine Rood is a freelance journalist and writes interviews, press releases and texts mainly for websites, newspapers and all kinds of publications. She has her own text agency, Bureau Rood. She worked at regional newspaper de Stentor for 20 years, 15 of which on the arts editorial board. Her specialisation is thus in cultural journalism. She lives together and has three sons.View Author posts

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