The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from The Art Institute of Chicago

Matisse's Bathers by a River installed at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from The Art Institute of Chicago

October 6, 2013 to February 16, 2014

One hundred years ago, the Art Institute of Chicago presented one of the most legendary displays of art ever held in America—the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known today as the Armory Show, after its first venue, the Lexington Avenue Armory in New York City. The exhibition brought to the United States of 1913 a dizzying array of brand-new art from Europe, joined with the newest trends in painting and sculpture by native-born artists—1300 works by some 300 artists in total.

As it had in New York and would in Boston, the Armory Show aroused both the interest and scorn of collectors and the public. Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Marcel Duchamp challenged accepted ideas of “true art” and threatened to upset the balance of American taste. In Chicago, only a few of the works in the show stayed behind, but the city had been afforded a glimpse of what was to come in the 20th century. Part of that future would involve the Art Institute of Chicago becoming one of the greatest collections of modern European art in the world.

Nearly 100 of the Art Institute’s most outstanding masterpieces will be on view at the Kimbell in The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago. This exhibition—a loan show of unprecedented depth and quality—will allow residents of and visitors to another American city to appreciate Chicago’s stupendous modern collection for the first time. Following upon the success of the Kimbell’s 2008 exhibition of Impressionist masterworks from the Art Institute, The Age of Picasso and Matisse will tell the story of European art in the first half of the 20th century through the holdings of one of the world’s best encyclopedic museums.

Picasso and Matisse, the artists whose names figure in the exhibition’s title, were the towering geniuses of art in Europe from the first decade of the century until Matisse’s death in the 1950s. They were both friends and rivals, often (and simplistically) juxtaposed as the great organizer of forms—Picasso—and the great manipulator of colors—Matisse. Their paintings and sculpture will be found throughout the exhibition.

Picasso’s Old Guitarist of 1903, the earliest work in the exhibition, is one of the most beloved paintings of the artist’s blue period. It was finished in Barcelona, after the young Spaniard had visited Paris and discovered the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin. The work of the Postimpressionists was also important to Matisse, whose brightly colored paintings of the very first years of the century—wild, “Fauve” canvases inspired by Vincent van Gogh—gave way to a more controlled style in his mural-sized compositions. The greatest of these may be his Bathers by a River, begun as a lyrical landscape in 1909 and by 1917 transformed into a bold but carefully ordered study of enigmatic figures in complex space.

A wide variety of artists from across Europe are represented in the exhibition, including major figures from Germany, Italy, Russia, and Spain. Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi moved to Paris in 1904. Over the next 20 years, his sculpture grew increasingly stylized and simplified, as shown in his inspired Golden Bird of 1919–20, purchased by the American art collector John Quinn and acquired by the Arts Club of Chicago in 1926. Inspired by a mythical creature in Romanian legend, it is one of three sculptures by Brancusi in the exhibition.

The Catalan painter Joan Miró will be represented by six examples, including the large-scale Policeman of 1925, inspired by dreams. Against a neutral background, the mustachioed, red-gloved policeman and his horse seem like naïve shapes imagined by a child. As it happens, Miró’s sophisticated “dream paintings” are among the most important works of his career, influencing the course of abstraction in the art of a later generation.

Miró’s paintings are among a large group of Surrealist paintings and sculpture in Chicago, richly represented in the exhibition with works by Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, and the best known of the Surrealists—Salvador Dalí, another Catalan painter who became an art-world celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s. Inventions of the Monsters was painted in Austria in 1937, on the eve of the German occupation; when it was purchased by the Art Institute in 1943, Dalí told Chicago curators that the painting had been a prophecy of the apocalypse of World War II.

The Age of Picasso and Matisse will take visitors up to the years around that war. The show’s last gallery, like its first, will be anchored by masterpieces by each title artist. Telling the fascinating story of five decades of art in Europe, this resplendent exhibition brings some of the world’s most renowned works of art to new audiences.

This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago. It is supported in part by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Presenting sponsorship is provided by the Leo Potishman Foundation and .

Admission to this exhibition is $18 for adults; $16 for seniors age 60 and over and for students with an ID; $14 for children ages 6­–11; and FREE for children under 6 and for Museum members. Admission is half-price on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays

Image: View of a modern gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago with Matisse’s Bathers by a River. Photograph by Paul Warchol.