Books: Picasso the Innovator Matisse the Realist; Matisse Picasso . by Anne Baldassari, Elizabeth Cowling, John Elderfield, John Golding, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, and Kirk Varnedoe (Tate Publishing, Paperback Pounds 29.95, Hardback Pounds 40). Reviewed by John Cornall
Byline: John Cornall
Ever since the days in Picasso's studio in the Bateau Lavoir when Apollinaire and the rest of the bohemian gang threw toy darts at Professor Matisse's portrait of Maguerite, they had always been rivals.
Time mellows and it seems that in the decade prior to Matisse's death in 1954, the old rivalry had become mingled in with an equal measure of respect and admiration. At one period of these later years Matisse went often to Picasso's village workshop at Vallauris where Matisse was having the tiles for the Vence chapel fired. If Matisse failed to call on Picasso during these visits, then diplomatic shenanigans ensued. Word would be spread of Picasso's offence necessitating oddly amused and intimate replies: 'My dear Picasso, come and bawl me out if that helps - between old friends like us what does it matter, we know each other so well.'
In the course of it's 400 pages Matisse Picasso revisits many such anecdotes, drawing on books like Francoise Gilot's Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art (1990), while also adding plenty of new material. Matisse Picasso is mostly a historical and interpretative analysis of previously unrecorded connections in the works themselves that takes its cue from Yves Alain Bois's Matisse and Picasso, the catalogue for the exhibition Bois curated at the Kimbell Art Museum in 1998.
The Tate Modern's successful current exhibition, which is attracting 4,000 visitors a day, is a larger version of the Kimbell show and Matisse Picasso, which has sold more than 27,000 copies, is its accompanying text.
As a text alone, Matisse Picasso is both formidable and modest. Firstly, it is a collaborative effort of big name curators and historians. Alongside John Elderfield, Chief Curator at Large of MOMA, New York, and probably the foremost scholar on Matisse, there are contributions from Kirk Varnedoe, Anne Baldassari, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, as well as from the English curatorial team comprising Elizabeth Cowling and John Golding. Claude Laugier collaborated on the excellent illustrated 30-page chronology that apparently makes use of previously unavailable documentary evidence.
The modesty of the enterprise lies in the format of the text. In place of the six weighty essays that might have been expected there are instead, following the arrangement of the exhibition itself, a series of essays in comparative criticism, 35 in all. There is something simple and refreshing in this approach. Much in the manner of an oldfashioned school exercise, the reader or viewer is invited to lavish attention on individual works noting contrasts and similarities.
Matisse once remarked that Picasso broke up forms while he was 'their servant'. …