Philadelphia Museum of Art to Present First Major Exhibition Devoted to Matisse in the 1930s


The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and the Musée Matisse Nice, will present the first exhibition ever dedicated to the pivotal decade of the 1930s in the art of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), one of the giants of twentieth-century art. Opening first in Philadelphia, from 19th October 2022 to 29th January 2023, the only United States venue, the exhibition Matisse in the 1930s will present more than 100 works, ranging from both renowned and rarely seen paintings and sculptures, to drawings and prints, to illustrated books. It will also feature documentary photographs and films.

A Pivotal Decade

In 1930, Matisse had achieved significant international renown, and yet he found himself in a deep creative slump. A dozen years before, he had switched his base of operations from Paris to Nice. There he had focused on the theme of female models in elaborately decorated studio setups bathed in the unvarying, crystalline light of the Mediterranean. Faced with the seductiveness of that body of work, some critics wondered whether Matisse, who had been such a radical force in modern painting, had lost his experimental edge. By the later 1920s, Matisse himself had developed second thoughts, and for a couple years he produced nearly no new paintings. The turning point came in the fall of 1930, when the artist visited the Barnes Foundation in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and received the commission for a three-part mural, The Dance.

Matisse used this commission to turn his work around. Afterward, he returned to easel painting with new procedures and a new approach. He started using photography systematically to document the cumulative process of building his motifs and to test his own reactions as he went along. He also began using pre-coloured cut papers to plan his compositions; this procedure led him away from the illusion of modelling and deep space and toward a style of flat tones and bold shapes that gave his compositions of the 1930s a new impact. 

Matisse in the 1930s will assemble a rich array of works from public and private collections in the United States and Europe. It will explore the remarkable changes in style that followed as Matisse discovered different ways of working across the mediums of easel and decorative painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, and the illustrated book. The exhibition will demonstrate that what he achieved during the 1930s represented nothing less than a total revitalization of his artistic vision.


Matisse in the 1930s is co-organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, and the Musée Matisse Nice. Each of these three institutions has an important connection to Matisse’s art and contains rich holdings in his art of this period, making them natural partners for this first-of-its-kind exhibition. In France, the topic will be considered in terms of the promotion of Matisse’s work by the Parisian art journal Cahiers d’art, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a comprehensive survey of Matisse’s work in that decade.


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