Matisse: The Red Studio

Henri Matisse. *The Red Studio*. Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1911. Oil on canvas, 71 1/4″ x 7′ 2 1/4″ (181 x 219.1 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Henri Matisse. The Red Studio. Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1911 347

Oil on canvas, 71 1/4″ x 7′ 2 1/4″ (181 x 219.1 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Curator, Ann Temkin: The Red Studio actually began not as the red studio. The floor was pink, the walls were blue, and all the furniture was an ochre yellow. After living with that a little bit, Matisse made the very bold decision that he was going to take one color, Venetian red, and coat the whole surface of the painting with it, except his works of art.

And it is just such an incredible example of creative courage, because it's not like you can start painting over with red paint and then decide, “oh, I don't think that was a good idea.” This was not something he could step back from once he began.

The Red Studio is a painting that Matisse himself admitted that he didn't quite understand. He said I like it, but I can't explain it to you. And for me, this was profoundly moving, because it does represent a moment that happens, not infrequently with great works of art, that they actually go further than the artist himself or herself can even really articulate.

Writer, Claire Messud: Part of what makes it real are the little knick-knacks and items that are strewn around on the surfaces. It was Roland Barthes who wrote that you have to have both meaningful and unmeaningful detail for something to feel real.

Professor, Mehammed Mack: What strikes me about that image is the collection of things: objects of inspiration and then art that might be inspired by those objects. And for me, that is so central to the whole project of self discovery and rediscovery.

Claire Messud: I could spend days looking at this painting trying to understand what this moment in his life was like, and why certain things were meaningful to him and other things not. The blue square on the left of the painting is a curtain and is referring to an outside, but you don't really have a sense that there's a way out of the room. You have a sense that the room is hermetic, and in that way, it seems like the inside of a mind to me.

Ann Temkin: Matisse painted very few self-portraits, but he made many paintings of his studios, often at points of either transition or particularly challenging moments in his work. So when Matisse is making paintings of his works of art, it's his self-portrait.

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