Henri Matisse. The Piano Lesson. Issy-les-Moulineaux, late summer 1916 538

Oil on canvas, 8' 1/2" x 6' 11 3/4" (245.1 x 212.7 cm). Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Narrator: Curator Ann Temkin:

Curator, Ann Temkin: In The Piano Lesson, we see a portrait of Henri Matisse's son Pierre. Pierre is, at that time, 16 years old, although he looks like a boy much younger. Behind him, we see the image of a woman, very unfinished, barely painted, but looking quite austere. And we think of her as a piano teacher, but in fact she's a painting within a painting.

Narrator: That painting, which is also in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection, is called Woman on a High Stool. It was hanging in the living room when Matisse painted his son at the piano.

Curator, Ann Temkin: In front of Pierre, you see on the lower left a sculpture, a decorative figure by Matisse. So Pierre is actually surrounded by his father's work, by the idea of art—which is there implicitly in the piano itself—and nature. Because that green triangle that you see off to the left, actually stands for the landscape outside.

Narrator: The composition is built largely from flat planes of color and geometric forms, and suggests Matisse’s interest in Cubism—a style that he absorbed but never embraced.

Curator, Ann Temkin: You even see how there's a slice taken out of Pierre's face to make the case that this is an abstract composition as much as some kind of naturalistic description of a boy at a piano.

What Matisse is doing here is bringing in a lot of dichotomies: between nature and culture, between a work of art and life—because it's very unclear here sometimes what is actually real that he's painting, and what is art. We also have a kind of meditation, I think, on emotion and sensuality, versus reason and calculation.

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