TAKE A FURTHER 20% OFF SALE | SHOP NOW

State Of Art: Visit Matisse: Life & Spirit At the Art Gallery of NSW

Known for his kick of joyful colour, Matisse is having a moment thanks to a new exhibition staged at The Art Gallery Of NSW. This month, the artist’s vivid wall-size cut-outs provided a fitting backdrop for OROTON’s end of year holiday celebrations. We asked curator Jackie Dunn to share her thoughts on why Matisse’s luminous palette and sense of beauty is the perfect tonic for now.

Henri Matisse The sorrow of the king (La tristesse du roi) 1952, 
Centre Pompidou, Paris, MNAM-CCI, purchased by the state, 
1954 AM 3279P, © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency

“That blue, the pale minty green – they are even more extraordinary up close.” Jackie Dunn is speaking to us from deep in the vaults of the Art Gallery of NSW. We are celebrating Henri Matisse, the enigmatic French artist who fuelled his energy through colour. “We know so much about Matisse’s work, yet he still remains an enigma,” the curator explains. “And so to reopen the gallery with this [exhibition] is a gift. Who other than Matisse to uplift our spirits, inspire us and give us that jolt of energy that was so desperately needed?”

The exhibition was four years in the planning and marks an important collaboration with The Centre Pompidou in Paris. “As soon as the gallery doors opened, there was this absolute sense of excitement and joy. The opportunity to come and immerse in art again and through Matisse, just seemed too good to be true. I think his work has really helped a lot of us feel good again.”

Henri Matisse Algerian woman (L’Algérienne) 1909, 
Centre Pompidou, Paris, MNAM-CCI, 
bequest of Vicomte Guy de Cholet to Musées nationaux, 
1916 AM 2009- 214, © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency 2021, 
photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Philippe Migeat / Dist RMN-GP

Credit that joy to the artist’s remarkable eye for colour. “Matisse spent a great deal of time perfecting a single hue, but he was really motivated by how they all sat together,” Dunn explains. “When Matisse returned to working with blue later in life, you can see that it feels very much like the blue that he was swimming in, in the lagoons in Tahiti. He wrote about it and became utterly obsessed by it. He talked about diving into the water, the blues above and below him. Then there’s the mauve, the mint – it’s not until you are actually present with all the works that you see the colour relationships that recurred throughout his work.”

Henri Matisse Decorative figure on an ornamental background 
(Figure décorative sur fond ornemental) 1925–26, 
Centre Pompidou, Paris, MNAM-CCI, purchased by the state, 
1938 AM 2149P, © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency 2021, 
photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Philippe Migeat / Dist RMN-GP

Henri Matisse Decorative figure on an ornamental background 
(Figure décorative sur fond ornemental) 1925–26, 
Centre Pompidou, Paris, MNAM-CCI, purchased by the state, 
1938 AM 2149P, © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency 2021, 
photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Philippe Migeat / Dist RMN-GP

A deep love of art and colour – in particular a considered approach to palette – is a viewpoint that also charges Creative Director Sophie Holt and forms the basis of her collections. So it felt particularly fitting to celebrate OROTON’s end of year celebrations with a night out at the gallery, set against a backdrop of Matisse’s wall-size paper cut-outs. OROTON formed a partnership with the Art Gallery of NSW last year, and it’s an exciting connection when you consider the house’s heritage and its ongoing commitment to craftmanship and innovation.

Dunn loves the link: “It’s wonderful that we are thinking about Matisse in a modern sense, he was such a visionary and really had such an impact on contemporary art and design.” (Note: Matisse also had an appreciation for tailoring, and would dress in the finest suits even when working in his studio). The curator says she couldn’t help but be extremely moved whilst researching the Sydney exhibition. “It’s hard not to be in awe of him,” Dunn says. “To realise that Matisse’s work ethic propelled him forward in such a way; that his sense of beauty came about from deep consideration and tireless work, was quite emotional. He was absolutely committed to pushing his ideas forward and not standing still. His work really captures that spirit.”