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Matisse and Picasso: Artistic Rivalry and Mutual Inspiration

All-Day Program

Saturday, October 14, 2017 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2923

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Portrait of Madame Matisse, 1905 (The Met)

Picasso said: “No one has ever looked at Matisse’s painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he.” Even before their first meeting in 1906 these two icons of modern art—Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954)—recognized, were inspired by, and felt determined to compete with each other’s genius.

The complicated personal and artistic relationship between these very different individuals has long fascinated scholars. Although they had instantly recognizable styles, throughout their lives, Matisse and Picasso borrowed subject matter, colors, patterns, and compositional structures back and forth, to create some of the most-radical, influential, and enduring works of visual art ever made.

In this richly illustrated daylong program, art historian Nancy G. Heller compares and contrasts important works made by both artists, exploring their mutual influence, respect, and rivalry, within the context of their backgrounds, artistic philosophies, and political and religious leanings.  She also examines how they made each other’s work richer.  

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.  The Invention of Fauvism and Proto-Cubism

A brief sketch of Matisse’s and Picasso’s early lives.  The invention of fauve art: brightly colored, thickly painted and shockingly sensual images, such as The Joy of Life (1905-6), by Matisse. The influence of that painting on another, even larger and more radical, canvas by Picasso—generally regarded as the transition to cubism: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  Cubist Distortion: A Dialogue Between the Artists

A continuing fascination with traditional African tribal masks: Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906) influences Matisse’s Madame Matisse (1913)—itself inspired by an actual mask the artist saw while visiting Picasso. Cubist anatomical and spatial distortion informs Matisse’s The Piano Lesson 1916), taken in large part from Picasso’s earlier cubist still-life paintings, collages, and sculptures.

12:15 to 1:30 p.m.  Lunch (Participants provide their own).

1:30 to 2:45 p.m.  A Shared Obsession with the Female Form—in Motion, and Still

Picasso’s Three Dancers (1925) and its relationship to Matisse’s The Dance (I) plus its many offshoots. Women of Algiers (1834), by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), as the basis for both Matisse’s Odalisque series (notably Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background, 1926) and Picasso’s Women of Algiers: After Delacroix (1955). Matisse’s cut-paper Blue Nude series (1952) compared with Picasso’s cutout metal sculptures of nude women, also from the 1950s.

3 to 4:15 p.m.   Developments in Self-Portraiture: Unexpected Influences

The law clerk from northern France and the artist’s son from southern Spain had quite different personalities, but they shared a great many interests throughout their long lives, as demonstrated by the comparisons between a pair of 1906 self-portraits, plus Matisse’s Violinist at the Window (1918) and Picasso’s The Shadow (1953).

Heller is a professor of art history of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)