They are almost all there, the works that fill L’Atelier rouge, an oil on canvas by Henri Matisse from 1911. In a moving tribute to this major artist of the 20th century, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York gives life in its place of creation of Issy-les-Moulineaux, in the Hauts-de-Seine. More than a hundred years after their dispersal, ten of the eleven works of art executed by Matisse between 1898 and 1911 and present in the painting have been brought together for the first time by the museum: six paintings, two bronzes, a terracotta dish and a ceramic.

Arranged in a semi-circle around L’Atelier rouge, acquired in 1949 by the MoMA, these works create a subtle interplay of mise en abyme. The large number of spectators can thus immerse themselves in the contemplation of Corsica, the courtyard of the mill (1898), admire Le Jeune Marin II (1906) or Nu à l’écharpe (1909) while seeking their representation in the main work. Ditto with the terracotta figurine Nude standing, very arched (1906-1907), recently rediscovered in the belongings of Jean Matisse, one of the artist’s sons. An attentive eye will also be able to admire how the painter reinterpreted his Luxury II (1907) by dressing his characters in red. The only thing missing is this nude on a pink background which appears on the left in L’Atelier rouge and which he had asked to be destroyed after his death.

If Matisse is not physically present in the work, he is nevertheless everywhere. “This canvas is like a self-manifestation,” says Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture. This is another way for him to do a self-portrait. When the painter moved to Issy-les-Moulineaux in 1909, he was about to turn 40. He lives and works in Paris, in the former convent of the Sacred Heart. But the sale of the building forced him to look for another place where he would have enough space to design two of his future masterpieces, La Danse et La Musique (1910), which his principal would buy from him. patron, the Russian businessman Sergei Chtchoukine.

The artist turned to the suburbs, which were more financially affordable, and his choice fell on 42 de la route de Clamart (now 92 avenue du Général-de-Gaulle), in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a pretty Second Empire residence surrounded by a huge garden. He will be a tenant before becoming an owner. It was there, in the middle of lush vegetation, that Matisse had a new studio built, for which he drew the plans, visible in the exhibition. Built by La Compagnie des constructions démontables et hygienics, the building measures ten meters by ten, with high wooden walls. Skylights and an almost entirely glazed wall bring in the light.

Revolutionary gesture

At this time, he was not yet the revered painter he would later become. He is a controversial figure. At the Salon d’Automne of 1905, he made a name for himself by becoming the leader of the Fauvists, those artists who had horrified the art world with the freedom of their brushstrokes and their flat areas of pure color. and live. The Red Workshop (181 × 219 cm) is part of an order from Chtchoukine, who wants three large pieces. It will be produced during the winter of 1911, after the artist’s trip to Moscow. It was not until the decor was completed, the furniture painted in ocher, the floor in pink and the walls in blue – certain traces are still visible on the edges of the painting – that Matisse decided to drown it in Venetian red. which carries everything.

A revolutionary gesture. “We don’t know if it was something he thought about for several days or if he acted impulsively,” said Ann Temkin. But there was no going back. Is this why Chtchoukine ultimately decides not to acquire the canvas, explaining to Matisse in a polite letter that he prefers his works with figures? “We’ll never know, but I don’t think he really understood the painting,” said the MoMA curator. It was so radical for its time. »

Presented at the second post-impressionist exhibition in London, in 1912, then at the international exhibition of modern art “Armory Show” of 1913, in New York, Chicago and Boston, L’Atelier rouge met with a rather cold reception. , even mocking. It was not until 1926 that Matisse finally sold it to a Briton, David Tennant, owner of the Gargoyle Club, who hung it in this chic and trendy place in London at the time. It was then purchased in 1945 by a New York gallery which sold it to MoMA four years later.

Long ignored, L’Atelier rouge is now recognized as a founding work of modern art. For Matisse, the period at Issy-les-Moulineaux marked a rich and fruitful phase in his work, before a new turning point began when he moved to Nice in 1917. Although he hardly ever set foot there, the painter kept the house in Issy until his death in 1954 at the age of 84. The property will then be divided into two lots. The one on which the workshop stood will be sold and the building destroyed in the 1970s, to general indifference.

MoMa curators analyze Matisse’s Red Workshop