Lonely Planet Writer

Life and art intersect at a new Matisse exhibit in Boston

Visitors to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts can get a personal glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most celebrated artists, thanks to Matisse in the Studio, a new exhibit that displays many of French artist Henri Matisse’s most famous works alongside the objects that played a part in inspiring them.

Boston in the spring with cherry blossoms at Charles River Esplanade.
Boston in the spring with cherry blossoms at Charles River Esplanade. Image by Shutterstock

In all, 36 paintings, 26 drawings, eleven bronzes, nine cut-outs, three prints and an illustrated book by Matisse are displayed alongside 40-odd items from his studio collection. Each of these ‘held particular, and deeply personal, relevance for the artist’ according to the exhibit’s introduction. And though they’re everyday objects, they are far from homogenous. Many of the textiles, sculptures, home-goods and other pieces were collected by Matisse during his travels to places like North Africa, Turkey and Tahiti.

‘Many of his ideas came to him from outside France,’ explains co-curator Ellen McBreen, who came up with the exhibit’s unique concept, ‘and he transformed them. Modern art, which he helped invent, was a cultural hybrid’.

The exhibit moves chronologically through Matisse’s career, from about 1900 to his death in 1954. The works on display range from the expressionistic to the abstract, and the link between the item and the painting does as well. For example, the 18th-century pewter jug that is featured in ‘Purple Robe and Anemones, 1937’, is instantly recognizable (although its undulating pattern also pops up in the painting’s background), but in ‘Red Interior: Still Life on a Blue Table, 1947’, only the most basic geometric elements from the bold textile made in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be detected. The varied motifs of a stunning Egyptian khayamiya can be picked out in several different works, including ‘Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948’.

Matisse in the Studio is on display in Boston until July 9.