Matisse the Master

Steven C. Munson reviews Hilary Spurling’s new book, in Commentary:

DerainpaintmatisseIn this second volume of her biography of arguably the greatest of 20th-century painters, Hilary Spurling recounts the life of Henri Matisse from 1909, when he was in the midst of consolidating the gains of his breakthrough Fauve period, through the two world wars, to his death in his studio at Cimiez in 1954. As with her earlier volume, The Unknown Matisse,* this new book gives us a down-to-earth portrait of the artist and his family while faithfully rendering a bygone era in which both art and those who made it, theorized about it, and bought it were taken seriously.

In Matisse’s case, most of those who took him seriously were foreigners; French critics and art lovers tended to be dismissive, if not downright hostile. One of the striking aspects of Spurling’s story is the recurring role of foreign supporters, and of foreign influences, in the painter’s career and artistic development. Among his key American collectors, for example, were Albert Barnes, who commissioned a huge mural—Dance (1933)—for his foundation outside Philadelphia, and the Cone sisters, Eta and Claribel, whose collection of Matisses is now in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

More here.