The exhibition thus allows us to relive an epoch, to discover the main currents of modern art in the west, the decisive steps these artists made and the new inspirations of the 20th century’s artistic production. It easily finds its place in China where contemporary art emerged 35 years ago and where east and west are constantly intertwined.
Having each revolutionized a part of western art history, their original works on paper, preparatory studies, sketches and drawings are gathered together for the first time in China. Together they help to understand their authors’ creative process, their mutual links as well as their reciprocal influence and their legacy to contemporary production.
Pierre Bonnard, the post-impressionist co-founder of the “Nabis” group, most often paints his intimate life and the contemporary world surrounding it using an elegant and luminous palette. Some of the sketches presently exhibited depict the two places where he spent most of his time: his villa in Cannet and Paris’ Clichy area. Both places would later become the subjects of major works. The color portrait of his mother is a touching memory from 1889.
Henri Matisse, a close friend of Bonnard’s, is considered the leader of Fauvism. A superb colorist, he is one of the 20th century’s iconic artists. His “Portrait de Femme” embodies the fluidity and spontaneity of his style. Together with his friend and rival Picasso, Matisse revolutionized painting by simplifying lines and colors.
Cubism came to the fore at the dawn of the 20th century with the support of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Of Spanish extraction like Picasso, Gris played a pivotal role in the development of synthetic cubism, the later phase of the movement. The still life exhibited is a powerful early work that is more conventionally crafted than later cubist compositions.
Similarly to Picasso, Alberto Giacometti – a major painter and sculptor of the 20th century – was steeped in the influence of tribal arts and created a body of unflinchingly modern works that ceaselessly took the human head as its main subject. This subject is once again present in a collection of small figures, thrown casually on the pages of books mostly from the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, an epoch–making literary review. The remaining drawings reveal the strength of his compositions, his analysis of space but also the fragility and delicacy of his stroke.
Balthus, who was fascinated by Chinese culture, followed the teaching of Bonnard. He sometimes produced dozens of sketches before the final painting. He always stayed away from the dominating movements of his time to produce a body of work that is at once figurative and narrative, both classical and modern but sometimes seen as subversive. The portraits of young women like Jacqueline Matisse or the study for the Partie de Cartes presently exhibited are testimonies of his admiration for old masters, in particular those of the Renaissance.