Cape Town — As a South African schoolgirl leaned close to the Matisse painting, she said, "I like the blue and yellow of the dress the woman is wearing. And then there is the bright red background," she said. "And the drawing of her face is simple but strong."
For the first time ever, Johannesburg is hosting the first art exhibition of original Matisse pieces in Africa. The artwork was loaned by the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambresis , which is the town where the artist grew up.
The show in Johannesburg features more than 80 works, including a painting that points to how the continent inspired Matisse and his contemporary, Pablo Picasso.
The exhibition in Johannesburg showcases more than 80 pieces of work, which includes a painting, directing at how Africa inspired Matisse and his contemporary, Pablo Picasso.
The artwork showcases the use of intense line drawings and luminously coloured stencils and also includes one of Matisse’s early drawings while he was still an art student, one of his final paintings and a portrait completed shortly before his death in 1954.
Federico Freschi, dean of art at the University of Johannesburg and co-curator of the exhibition says, "He collected many African art objects, particularly masks and figurines from Central and West Africa,"
"Matisse also collected a number of African textiles. He had a particular interest in textiles. So he collected many Kuba cloths, for example, and also various North African fabrics, particularly the sort of cotton appliqué work that is well-known in Africa. And those things find their way into his work in various ways," he added.
As a result of this being a first for Africa, the exhibition will broad in scope to allow space for learning and engagement.
The exhibition consists of items from the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Matisse Museum in Nice, the Matisse family and private collections.
One of the paintings features a small African sculpture, a carved wooden figurine that Matisse bought at a curio shop in Paris in 1906.
There’s a sweet story behind the sculpture… Matisse brought the sculpture to a lunch at Gertrude Stein's and showed it to Picasso, who was fascinated by it, Stein later recounted. Picasso soon collected African sculptures and masks, and many critics say his interest in African art led to his development of Cubism.
Young artists at the Johannesburg exhibit eagerly gathered around the plates from Matisse's famed Jazz series.
Shaunti Hlongwane, 15, who came with other students from his art class at New Model School said, “I like many of his paintings ... they are so perfect,”
"The colours, I love all of the colours that he used, so he gave me many ideas when I want to paint."
Sibusiso Ngwenya, art facilitator at New Model School motivated students to interact with Matisse’s art, “We want to encourage the students to think about what they feel in response to the art and then in response to create their own artworks and their own performances."
Ngwenya was extremely happy that he could expose his students to the works of Matisse, "His use of colour, the line work... The students look at it and they see simplicity and purity and it inspires them. They think, 'This is something I can do!'”
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