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Can Competition further the Development of Art? Matisse and Picasso - an unusual friendship story

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

The beginning of the twentieth century is characterized by loud innovative ideas that determined the development of contemporary art in the era of modernism. An undeniable role in the evolution of contemporary art was played out by the confrontation between the two titans of modernism, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. This creative duel of two equally gifted geniuses, but different in temperament and way of expression, influenced not only the formation of Matisse and Picasso as artists, but also defined them as the leading innovators and reformers in the history of art.



Matisse and Picasso - two different paths to art


Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in northern France to a conservative grain merchant family. Henri received a law degree and worked as an ordinary clerk. It would seem that his fate was a foregone conclusion, if at the age of 20 he had not been admitted to the hospital with acute appendicitis. Young Henri was forced to spend the days in a hospital bed for 2 months and in order to somehow occupy the young man, his mother brought him paints and postcards to the hospital for drawing. At this time, Matisse discovered the bliss of creation and firmly decided that he would only engage in painting. Despite the persuasion of his father, Henri gave up jurisprudence and went to Paris to study painting with the famous master Gustave Moreau.


Picasso was 12 years younger than Matisse and, unlike his rival, was raised as a child prodigy from early childhood. His father was an art teacher and strongly supported his son's exceptional talent. In his early youth, Pablo moved to Paris, where, struggling with poverty, melancholy and hopelessness, he painted sad works of his "blue" period.


The legendary fateful meeting of the two greatest talents


“Creativity takes courage ”

Henri Matisse


The first meeting of the two greatest talents of Matisse and Picasso took place in 1906 in the salon of the Stein family of American collectors. By that time, Henri Matisse was quite famous in wide circles. After a demonstration of his work at the famous autumn salon of 1905, where critic Louis Vauxcelles called the work of Matisse and his colleagues "wild" from the French fauve. A completely new approach to painting, a riot of colors, simplification and deformation of form definitely shocked the sophisticated French public.


Young Picasso felt trembling excitement when he met Henri Matisse, the leader of a completely new modernist movement in painting - Fauvism. The Spanish artist did not even suspect, that during this period of his career, Matisse was not fully confident in choosing his own style and felt himself largely dependent on the opinions of others. However, with his characteristic dignity, Henri extended his hand of friendship and strongly supported Picasso in his work.



How Matisse inspired Picasso to create Cubism


"You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at that time. No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he”

Pablo Picasso


Picasso, in turn, was obsessed with Matisse, he closely followed his career and carefully studied each new work of the artist. He was haunted by the thought that all his works were just well-executed plagiarism, a repetition of the manner of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Pablo sought to prove to himself that he was a better reformer than Matisse, he had to invent his own unique style in painting. By coincidence, it was Matisse, who brought the African statuette with him to the meeting, pushed the revolutionary idea of ​​creating cubism. It was Matisse who gave the name to the new direction of Picasso's painting, seeing in 1907 the painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (The Young Ladies of Avignon), he coined the term "cube".


The influence of collectors on the development of an artist's career


The struggle between Matisse and Picasso was fought not only for the attention of the viewer, but also for the areas of sales. This is how the confrontation between the two geniuses shared the taste preferences of the Stein brothers' collectors. Michael and his wife Sarah became ardent adherents of the art of Matisse, and Leo and Gertrude Stein supported the daring energetic Picasso. Their houses turned into avant-garde salons, which were sought after by lovers of contemporary art from all over the world. Another patron who forever united two brilliant artists in his collection was the Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin.


Profound friendship and rivalry


"In the end, everything depends on one's self, on a fire in the belly with a thousand rays. Nothing else counts. That is why, for example, Matisse is Matisse. . . He's got the sun in his gut ”

Pablo Picasso


Despite the uneasy relationship and open competition, the two greatest modernists of the twentieth century were united by the desire for a completely new perception of painting. They at once ​criticized and supported each other, now and then spurring internal ambitions. The feeling of rivalry pushed artists to use bold and a couple of very risky approaches in their work.

Shortly before his death, Matisse said to Picasso:

"We must talk as much as possible, when one of us dies, there will be objects that the other will not be able to talk about with anyone else."


In 1955, Picasso presented a series of paintings depicting his workshop in California, in this creative way he immortalized the memory of his departed friend Henri Matisse, who loved to depict his own workshop on his canvas.


1. Pablo Picasso Les Femmes d'Alger (English: Women of Algiers) 1955

Canvas, oil. 114 × 146.4

Christie's, New York. 05/11/2015

Price: $179,365,000


2. Henri Matisse, Odalisque au magnolia (English: Magnolia odalisque) 1923

Canvas, oil. 60.5 × 81.1

Christie's, New York. 05/08/2016. Lot 8

Price: $80,750,000



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