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First Exhibition Devoted to the Portraits of Henri Matisse Opens at Bucerius Kunst Forum
People, Masks, Models is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on Henri Matisse’s portraits
Matisse (1869 – 1954) not only created colorful interior scenes and still life paintings but also very expressive portraits. He regarded portraits as his most important artistic challenge. For Matisse, a “true” likeness was not achieved merely by capturing a sitter’s features, but was expressed through the “entire arrangement” of a portrait in which he used his encounter with his models to inspire his imagination.

People, Masks, Models, the title of this exhibition, testifies to the variety of ways in which Matisse transformed the traditional portrait. The people in his paintings often took on supra-individual characteristics similar to those of a mask in a play. For the most part, this “masking” of his superficial first impressions was the result of numerous sittings and versions. Throughout his life, portraits remained Matisse’s most important artistic challenge. Picasso’s companion Françoise Gilot reported that Matisse was addicted to new faces and always keen to decipher an interesting one.

The first artistic revolution of the 20th century can be traced directly to Henri Matisse. Around 1905, having renounced Impressionism, he united intense colors with powerful expression: this marked the birth of Fauvism, named so by a critic who called Matisse and his fellow artists “fauves”, or “wild beasts”. Among their early works, the Fauves painted a surprising number of portraits, and were the first to apply the move toward abstraction to an art form in which resemblance was seen as fundamental. Like his predecessors, Matisse also wanted to capture a likeness – though not through traditional means, but by creating a compelling image of a subject’s personality as he had experienced it in their often intense encounters.

This first exhibition devoted to the portraits of Henri Matisse was created in cooperation with the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and the Bucerius Kunst Forum and could have been seen in Stuttgart from September 27, 2008 to January 11, 2009 and now is presented in Hamburg from January 31 to April 19, 2009. It brings together paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints representing all of Matisse’s artistic periods, and is supported by major loans from international museums, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Hermitage in St. Petersburg.

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