Curator, Ann Temkin: Matisse worked for about a year with this ceramicist called André Metthey on what turned out to be about 40 vases, dishes, tiles. He loved that work. He was so interested in decorative arts, as a collector of ceramics, a collector of textiles. These are mainly known because of him including them in his paintings, like The Red Studio, not because they were featured in exhibitions.
Writer, Claire Messud: The rendition of it in The Red Studio—this plate is next to a glass, that looks as though you might just be putting some lunch on the plate.
There's this question about what is art and the status of art and is art something separate from life? And I think all of his work is saying art and life are totally intertwined and are the same thing. And I love that these naked figures are all speaking to each other, and they're speaking from the sort of privileged position of art on the wall to the everyday plate.
Ann Temkin: Matisse, with this plate, has this very relaxed way of painting a female figure. The brush strokes outlining her body, you feel him doing it with a few minutes of effort. And these almost like little stamped flowers, just with the tip of the brush to get the five petals of blue around the center of yellow, because then they dry. No erasing, no backtracking. It's almost like a sketch pad.
I think working with ceramic brought out that relaxed side of him and that just pleasurable act of painting in a very spontaneous way.
Pleasure was so important to Matisse and also so hard-won. When he was talking, for example, to students, he said: don't think this comes easy, don't think getting to where I had to get to make these look natural was easy. It was anything but. I absolutely worked myself to the bone to figure out how to arrive at these results that just seemed almost inevitable.