This week, Assistant Curator Flavia Frigeri takes us on a trip to Matisse's studio at Villa le Rêve to explore how the artist's collection of objects reveal a direct link between photograph, painting and cut-out
In this second stop in our journey in Matisse’s studio I’m taking you to the Villa le Rêve in Vence, South of France, where the artist lived and worked for five years from 1943 to 1948. Surrounded by palms, laurels and olive trees, Villa le Rêve - which quite fittingly translates to ‘Villa the dream’ – was a place where Matisse could seek respite from the war and restore his frail health, but was also a place of inspiration for many of his early cut-outs. The bold illustrations that form Jazz, the last series of paintings depicting the interior of his Vence studio, and the group of small cut-outs filled with endless variations on the seaweed motif are all testament to this place of fervid activity.
Hélène Adant – cousin of ‘Mme Lydia’ or the ‘bolshevik’, as Matisse used to call his assistant and right hand woman Lydia Delectorskaya when she was not readily available – was a frequent visitor of Villa le Rêve. Fascinated by the atmosphere, Adant soon began to take photographs of the studio and its inhabitants. All of the objects that populated Matisse’s studio, from models and visitors stopping by for tea, to cats, doves and of course the artist himself, are captured by Adant’s lens and today give us an intimate portrait of daily life in Matisse’s world. (More of which you’ll see as our blog progresses!).
Amongst the protagonists of this reportage is a unique collection of objects Matisse collected over the years. Printed fabrics, sea shells, a coffee pot, Fez pottery, plates and chairs, were made the subject of many works, including Still life with a Shell (1940) and its eponymous cut-out (both on display in our exhibition). Although neither the painting nor the cut-out were made at Villa le Rêve, the objects which appear in both works are fixed presences in Matisse’s palette of objects and like many others accompanied him in all his studios.
The chocolatière with wooden handle, first featured in Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading) in 1906, later reappears in Still life with Blue Tablecloth from 1909; and the shell in Still life with a Shell was a souvenir from his trip to Tahiti in 1930. Completing the composition are a blue and white china flower pot, a tea cup and some apples - which in Adant’s photograph (above) are replaced by pomegranates.
Here, the integral relationship between the photograph, painting and cut-out is made explicit as Matisse’s studio objects are the element that binds the three mediums together. Louis Aragon, writer and close acquaintance of Matisse, compared his collection of objects to a vocabulary - he felt that, like how a poet needs words to nourish his art, so too are these objects necessary inspirational props for Matisse.
Next time, we’ll visit Matisse’s Parisian apartment!
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is on display at Tate Modern until 7 September