Matisse holding photo of Picasso

Henri Matisse holding a photo of Pablo Picasso© Getty

Remarking on the fact that Picasso did not visit often enough, Matisse once said: “ ‘We’ve got to see each other often, because when one of us goes, there are things the other will no longer be able to say to anyone.’ But he never comes.” Picasso did come, and he did so more regularly than Matisse’s words would seem imply.

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TateShots: Françoise Gilot on Matisse

Francoise Gilot, who was Picasso’s partner at the time when Matisse was making the cut-outs, recalled how ‘no one meant quite as much to him (Picasso) as Matisse.’ Both friends and rivals, the two enjoyed each other’s company and especially the many heated conversations they often entertained when Picasso and Gilot visited Matisse at his Villa le Rêve studio in Vence, an inland town on the French Riviera, and at the Hôtel Régina in Cimiez, a hilltop suburb of Nice. On one such occasion Picasso emphatically criticised Matisse’s choice to decorate the Vence Chapel.

Matisse wall design Vence chapel

The Chapel of the Rosary of the Dominicans at Vence as designed by Matisse© Hélène AdantCentre Pompidou - Mnam - Bibliothèque Kandinsky - Hélène Adant

An atheist and outspoken supporter of the Communist Party, Picasso found Matisse’s temporary allegiance with the church unacceptable – he said to Matisse: ‘You’re crazy to make a chapel for those people. Do you believe in that stuff or not? If not, do you think you ought to do something for an idea that you don’t believe in?’ And Picasso went on to say that instead of a chapel Matisse should have designed a market and so on. The debate was fierce, but not enough to end their friendship. Matisse like many others succumbed to Picasso’s sarcastic remarks and always maintained a paternal attitude towards the younger and more ill-tempered artist. As Gilot put it: ‘In their meetings, the active side was Pablo; the passive, Matisse. Pablo always sought to charm Matisse, like a dancer, but in the end it was Matisse who conquered Pablo.’

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