If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live with a masterpiece, your wait is over. Matisse and Friends: Selected Masterworks from the National Gallery of Art is an experimental exhibition that offers a cozy environment for looking at art, somewhat akin to a living room.
Our inspiration for this approach came from Matisse himself, who said “What I want is an art of equilibrium, of purity and tranquility, free from unsettling or disturbing subjects, so that all those who work with their brains, and this includes business men as well as artists and writers, will look on it as something soothing, a kind of cerebral sedative as relaxing in its way as a comfortable armchair.”
Relax & Luxuriate in the Paintings
With this quote in mind, we decided to include armchairs and couches so that visitors could relax and luxuriate in the paintings. To enhance the intimacy of the space, we adorned it with objects similar to those found in Matisse’s studio–textiles, dried flowers, vases, a clock, a birdcage. We even incorporated a wall mural of Matisse’s studio in Vence, France so that visitors would feel that they were in an extension of that space.
The wall colors were inspired by the similar color palette that ran through all of the paintings in the exhibition. We choose bold colors and proved that such vibrant paintings did not need to be displayed on a white wall to pop.
Share Your Reflections
On the side tables we placed image-based scrapbooks that guide slow looking with a few key artworks and journals that invite visitors to reflect on their experience through open writing prompts or poetry. We also included an experimental audio for Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure that gives the eye and mind the benefits of a purely visual experience (rather than a more traditional art historical narrative of the work). One participant described the audio as “an incredible way to experience a work of art. To spend so much time breathing with it, moving with it, moving into memory...you could truly smell the ocean, hear the lapping of waves against the boats, and feel the air. Complete joy!”
Although this exhibition is small, only 14 works of art in total, it is worth carving out some time to experience it. So come find your favorite painting and grab a seat, get comfortable, and stay awhile. When you are done, feel free to share your experience with us in one of the journals in the gallery or by tagging @denverartmuseum and using the hashtag #SitWithMatisse on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
Albert Marquet, Posters at Trouville, 1906. Oil on canvas; overall: 25 5/8 x 32 in., framed: 35 7/8 x 42 3/4 x 2 1/4 in. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney 1998.74.1. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Raoul Dufy, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1906. Oil on canvas; overall: 21 1/4 x 25 1/2 in., framed: 28 3/8 x 32 3/4 x 2 5/8 in. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney 1998.74.3. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.