Both artists were fascinated by the interrelationship of sculpture and painting. The central comparison in this room is between two bronze reliefs, Matisse’s Backs III and IV 1916-17, 1930, and Picasso’s painting Three Women at the Spring 1921. There are numerous similarities in the way in which the artists modelled the bodies of these heavy-limbed, statuesque women.
Backs III and IV belong to a series of five sculptures. The first was relatively naturalistic, based on a picture of a woman leaning on a fence. Over twenty years Matisse progressively refined and stylised the original pose, until he achieved a massive simplicity. The figures merge with their supports, caught between two and three-dimensional planes. ‘I sculpted as a painter. I did not sculpt like a sculptor’, wrote Matisse.
Picasso’s Three Women at the Spring, is clearly intended to approximate sculptural reliefs - the figures are derived from classical Greek grave stelae. Tricking the eye by playing on depth and perspective in this way was, said Picasso, ‘all part of my struggle to break with the two- dimensional aspect of art’.
A separate comparison of two still lifes in this room, Picasso’s Still Life with Pitcher and Apples 1919 and Matisse’s Bowl of Oranges 1916, point to intriguing differences even at their closest points of intersection. The anthropomorphic qualities of Picasso’s voluptuous pitcher suggest a female figure. Matisse’s bowl of oranges holds no such hidden images, though it has its own air of mystery. Typically for Matisse, the composition seems to continue beyond the picture frame. Reduced to essentials, a few lines and colours, the bowl becomes a kind of chalice, the fruit irradiated like strange hosts.