The two self-portraits in this room were painted soon after the artists first met. Matisse’s self-portrait is surprisingly informal. It was painted in Collioure, a fishing port close to the Spanish border, where Matisse often spent his summers. The artist, who was then in his late thirties, wears a striped fisherman’s shirt and regards us warily. More frequently he portrayed himself in a suit, with thick glasses, and a reserved, professorial air. The paint is textured and applied in heavy strokes to sculpt this larger than life-size head.
Picasso, by contrast, looks downwards in his self-portrait, his features frozen in a mask. The portrait may well be linked to the recent death of Cézanne,an artist whom both Matisse and Picasso revered, and who had died just days before Picasso’s twenty-fifth birthday. Picasso’s palette hangs down, his brushes nowhere to be seen, as if in mourning for the great artist. The portrait can also be seen as a challenge, an image of a young artist ready to take up Cézanne’s brushes and assume his mantle.
A comparison of two other paintings in this room, Matisse’s Le Luxe I 1907, and Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse 1906, reveals that even at this early stage, the artists were exploring remarkably similar thematic territory, although Matisse uses brilliant colour, whereas Picasso relies on muted tones. Neither of these paintings sets out a clear narrative in the presentation of their quasi-mythic subject matter. Rather, they remain ambiguous; archaic vistas, existing out of time and place.