The new studio would be very different from all its previous ones.
Path to the Issy workshop. Autochrome. Summer 1917
During the year and a half that the Matisse family spent at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, their way of life was exclusively communal. The various buildings and the large convent garden, though long abandoned and overgrown, became a bustling center in which there was little or no line of demarcation between family, friends and pupils, whose some rented their own residences and studios within the complex. Purrmann, the headmaster of Matisse’s school, lived above him, as did the American painter Patrick Henry Bruce. The sculptor Auguste Rodin occupied the ground floor of the former convent school, the 18th century Hôtel Biron (now the Rodin Museum). Rodin had been brought into the building by another occupant, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, his friend and former secretary. An anthology of other artists, poets, musicians and comedians filled the community, taking advantage of a rare opportunity for a modest cohort to enjoy a distinguished address in the center of Paris, even if its indoor and outdoor spaces retained little traces of their former glory.
The move of the Matisses from Paris to Issy-les-Moulineaux was prompted by the government’s decision to also sell this convent, which resulted in an eviction notice being issued to its occupants in early 1909. Matisse was now accustomed to the spacious accommodations that the convent provides, as well as its park-like setting. He knew he had to look beyond Paris if he wanted to find an affordable equivalent, and by April he had located and chosen the property in nearby Issy-les-Moulineaux. Its unique advantage was a double lot: one containing the house and the other providing a location for a workshop. The move brought Matisse to a small industrial town in which he was one of the very few artists. The residential area was located above local factories and businesses and was still very sparsely populated.
Interior of Matisse’s studio in Issyles-Moulineaux. October/November 1911
The artist’s move to Issy distanced him from a growing set of professional pressures and anxieties.
The new address in Issy frees Matisse from the constant companionship that was part of life at the Couvent du Sacré-Coeur. It turned out that there was no immediate sale of the convent, and Matisse’s school continued on its premises during the 1909-10 school year. But the artist has drastically reduced his engagement, appearing only once a week to critique student work. Matisse’s voluntary withdrawal reflected his recognition that he could no longer devote to his classes the energies necessary for his own painting. Equally important, the artist’s move to Issy served to distance him from a cumulative set of professional pressures and anxieties other than those of a teacher. On the verge of turning 40, Matisse was struggling with the widespread denigration of his work, despite the fervent admiration of his students and a small number of devoted collectors. Only four years earlier he had achieved avant-garde fame as the leader of the notorious artists known as the Fauves (“wild beasts”), who had horrified the art world with the free brush of their vivid, non-naturalistic paintings and colors. But by 1909, the Parisian art world was firmly in the grip of a then-nascent Cubism, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Matisse’s former Fauve comrade, Georges Braque. The move from Paris allowed Matisse to act out his sense of having been relegated to a position that is no longer the focus of discussion. The spacious new studio in Issy will serve as the setting for what will be an independent and far from easy course.
You want to know more ? Get a copy of Matisse: The Red Studio.
Matisse: The Red Studio is organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark. The exhibition is curated by Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis, Museum of Modern Art, and Dorthe Aagesen, Chief Curator and Senior Researcher, SMK – National Gallery of Denmark; with the help of Charlotte Barat, Madeleine Haddon and Dana Liljegren; and with the collaboration of Georges Matisse and Anne Théry, Archives Henri Matisse, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, and can be viewed at MoMA from May 1 to September 10, 2022.