Matisse and Works Inspired by Him at Montclair Art Museum

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

It’s easy to be inspired by great artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Prendergast, but who inspired them? According to curator Gail Stavitsky, it was Henri Matisse. Montclair Art Museum‘s new “Matisse and American Art” exhibit pairs works by over 40 artists with the Matisse pieces that directly or indirectly inspired them.

“Matisse’s lasting impression really has to do not only with his style and the way that he developed line, color and form, but also with his subject matter and his iconic themes,” explained Stavitsky.  “Whether they’re portraits, nudes … the subject of the goldfish in the goldfish bowl, the dancers.”

The drawings, paintings, collages and sculptures on display all have a hint Matisse, but the most direct adaptation in the show is based on the artist’s “Woman in Blue.” Andy Warhol created “Woman in Blue (After Matisse).”

“He has obviously a very different handling of his medium — handling of paint — that looks so different from Matisse,” said Stavitsky. “You can see this very flat, mechanical look that goes hand-in-hand with, of course, the way Warhol made paintings.”

And a study for a self-reflective mural Lichtenstein created late in life features what appears to be a depiction of Matisse’s sculpture “Aurore.”

“It is really emblematic of how Liechtenstein regarded Matisse as one of his favorite artists,” Stavitsky said.

Then there’s the story behind Mark Rothko’s later works. He had become infatuated with Matisse’s “The Red Studio.”

“You can see his use of that color in this painting from 1955,” said Stavitsky. “Rothko spent a lot of time at Museum of Modern Art looking at ‘The Red Studio’ and he gazed at the red and he said, ‘You became that color. You became saturated with it as if it were music.'”

Should you want to follow in Rothko’s footsteps, there’s an opportunity to create your own Matisse-inspired work in a room based on “The Red Studio” — and you’d certainly be in good company.

In addition to the likes of Warhol, there are works on display by artists who collected Matisse, artists who studied under him. There are even works by his great-granddaughter Sophie Matisse. Stavitsky says that’s because Henri Matisse’s work has universal appeal — that there’s always something intriguing to be found in it.