Inspired by Matisse, a Celebrated Gallerist Offers a Personal Tour of Joyful Art

Mar 21, 2016 9:33PM

One of Henri Matisse’s most famous works, Le Bonheur de Vivre—“The Joy of Life”—was a game-changer. Its vibrant hues and sensuous subject matter prompted an uproar among Parisian audiences in 1906. Meanwhile, other artists, including Pablo Picasso, were motivated to create similarly provocative works. Now, more than a century later, the painting and the artistic movement it inspired serve as inspiration for an exhibition at Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London.

The show, “Bonheur de Vivre,” is a personal one: These 16 works have special meaning for Jacobson, the prominent gallerist. The paintings—their color, light, movement, and joy—inspired Jacobson to get into the art world in the first place, and to stay in it.

Matisse’s pivotal painting was the start of it all. But Picasso wasn’t the only artist energized by it. Artists from Joan Miró and Alexander Calder to Robert Motherwell, each represented in Jacobson’s new show, were influenced by the painting’s early 20th-century debut.

A joyful air and vibrant colors seep into Joan Miró’s Femme amoureuse de l’étoile filante (1966), one of several works on display by the celebrated Spanish painter. Three Calder works, including Blue Flower, Perforated Red (1960), a cheerful hanging mobile, express the artist’s idea that “art should be happy and not lugubrious.”

And then there are three works by Matisse himself: not Le Bonheur de Vivre, but a trio of bright portraits of female figures, relaxed and bathed in daylight. Jeune fille à la mauresque, robe verte (1921), the earliest of the three, shows a woman comfortably dressed in a green robe. Next to her, a lush bouquet of flowers sits on a windowsill overlooking the calm blue sea. Fifteen years earlier, Le Bonheur might have shocked audiences, but it could be argued that Matisse’s mastery—from both a technical and emotional standpoint—comes through even more in these colorful portrayals of joy and the pleasures of living a good life.

Bridget Gleeson

Bonheur de Vivre” is on view at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, March 17–May 28, 2016.

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