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Three Major Institutions Collaborate to Present First Major Exhibition Devoted to Matisse in the 1930s

October 20, 2022–January 29, 2023

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris and the Musée Matisse Nice, is presenting the first major exhibition ever dedicated to the pivotal decade of the 1930s in the art of Henri Matisse (1869–1954), one of the giants of twentieth-century art. Opening first in Philadelphia, the only United States venue, Matisse in the 1930s contains about 140 works from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, ranging from both renowned and rarely seen paintings and sculptures, to drawings and prints, to illustrated books. It also features documentary photographs and films. The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated scholarly catalogue. Matthew Affron, Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Cécile Debray, President of the Musée National Picasso-Paris; and Claudine Grammont, Director of the Musée Matisse Nice, comprise the curatorial team.

Matthew Affron stated: “Because this transformative decade in Matisse’s career has never been treated in a standalone exhibition before, visitors have a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in the very process through which Matisse generated a new creative approach and outlook in the later part of his career, while also witnessing the dramatically revitalized production that followed from his eventful visit to Philadelphia in 1930. Only through such an institutional partnership can we so vividly tell this story, as each of our collaborating museums is uniquely and deeply connected to Matisse. Between works on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and complementary holdings down the street at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia this fall will be an especially exciting city in which to experience Matisse’s extraordinary art.”

“Matisse spent most of his life in Nice, and Mediterranean splendor permeates his work,” added Claudine Grammont. “He came back from the U.S. to France with a broadened vision of the world that had long-lasting effects, as the ’30s were rejuvenating for this pioneer of modernity. A new Matissian ‘map’ was drawn with the commission of a mural for the Barnes Foundation: it was consequently between Philadelphia and Nice that the main axis for these decisive years runs. The Musée Matisse in Nice, whose collection is rich in art linked to this period of creation, is particularly happy to collaborate with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Musées d’Orsay and de l’Orangerie to demonstrate the powerful renewal in the artist’s work during this key period.”

Cécile Debray said: “The Dance (1931–33), Matisse’s decoration for the Barnes Foundation, is closely linked to the artist’s return to a modernist style in the 1930s. These years, when Matisse was inspired by his trips to the United States, when he was promoted in Paris by the journal Cahiers d’art, faced off with Picasso at the Paul Rosenberg gallery while his radical pre–World War I paintings were seen at Paul Guillaume’s, assisted the organization of different retrospective exhibitions, and worked on his art in Nice, made history as the crucible of a fascinating modernist transformation.  

“Our three museums in Philadelphia, Paris, and Nice offer a special, much-anticipated opportunity for a new and unparalleled exhibition about this decade. Above all, the collaboration marks a friendship. I would like to salute Claudine Grammont and Matthew Affron, my friends and colleagues.”

A Pivotal Decade

In 1930, Matisse had achieved significant international renown, and yet he found himself in a deep creative slump. A dozen years before, he had switched his base of operations from Paris to Nice. There he had focused on the theme of female models in elaborately decorated studio setups bathed in the unvarying, crystalline light of the Mediterranean. Faced with the seductiveness of that body of work, some critics wondered whether Matisse, who had been such a radical force in modern painting, had lost his experimental edge. By the later 1920s, Matisse himself had developed second thoughts, and for a couple years he produced nearly no new paintings. The turning point came in the fall of 1930, when the artist visited the Barnes Foundation in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and received the commission for a three-part mural, The Dance.

Matisse used this commission to turn his work around. Afterward, he returned to easel painting with new procedures and a new approach. He started using photography systematically to document the cumulative process of building his motifs and to test his own reactions as he went along. He also began using pre-colored cut papers to plan his compositions; this procedure led him away from the illusion of modeling and deep space and toward a style of flat tones and bold shapes that gave his compositions of the 1930s a new impact.  

Matisse in the 1930s assembles a rich array of works. It explores the remarkable changes in style that followed as Matisse discovered different ways of working across the mediums of easel- and decorative painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, and the illustrated book. The exhibition demonstrates that what he achieved during the 1930s represented nothing less than a total revitalization of his artistic vision.

Organization of the Exhibition

The narrative is organized chronologically, with a prelude called Interiors and Odalisques that looks at Matisse’s so-called Nice period of 1917–30. This section focuses on the artist’s depiction of studio models, often in settings filled with decorative textiles and other items from various regions of the Islamic world that Matisse visited; it features such important works as The Three Sisters (1917, Musée de l’Orangerie) and Woman with a Veil (1927, Museum of Modern Art), which offers viewers a chance to examine Matisse’s attempt to synthesize decorative design, fashion, and the sensuality of the female figure into a modern aesthetic idiom, an effort much debated both in its day and in more recent years.

The second section looks at Matisse’s reinvigoration of his art through two parallel projects: the Barnes mural, which was his first and only opportunity to make a painted decoration for a specific architectural space, and his first major illustrated book, an edition of poems by the influential Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), which evoked a world of antiquity filled with dream and pleasure. This section highlights a plethora of studies for the mural in pencil, gouache, and oil lent by the Musée Matisse Nice, including the nearly eleven-foot-tall Drawing at the Scale of the Central Figure of Barnes Mural (1930–31). To further convey the process of making that mural, which remains permanently housed at the Barnes Foundation nearby the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition includes a short amateur film showing Matisse at work on the massive design in the rented garage in Nice that served as his workspace, as his dog Raudi bounds friskily about.

The visitor next encounters a section called Artist and Model that examines Matisse’s move to a bold, elemental style in drawings and easel paintings of the nude figure. A premier example is Large Reclining Nude (1935, Baltimore Museum of Art), which exemplifies the artist’s powerful use of flat forms to sublimate the sensuality of the subject into the orchestration of the composition. The following section, Painted Decorations, examines Matisse’s continuing engagement with a decorative and architectural mode through his experiments in the genre of painted tapestry cartoons. A spectacular example, Nymph in the Forest (Verdure) (1935–42/43, Gift of Madame Jean Matisse to the French State on deposit at the Musée Matisse Nice, 1978, Musée d’Orsay), would occupy Matisse’s attention over eight years and become a true artistic touchstone for him. The next section, Working in the Studio, will follow Matisse’s development starting in 1936 of a series of images of models posing in fashionable European attire. The visible décor of the studio interior—with bouquets, mirrors, works of art, and large succulent plants—supported Matisse’s decorative concept of the image. A key picture in this section is Woman in Blue (1937, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which depicts Lydia Delectorskaya (1910–1998), Matisse’s secretary and studio manager, and in this period, his principal model, clad in a ruffled silk bodice with lace edging and matching skirt that she fabricated at the artist’s request. This ensemble inspired the bold visual design of Woman in Blue; the actual skirt is displayed alongside the painting to underscore the productive collaboration between model and artist.

A compact section called A Mural in Motion signals the continuing importance for Matisse at the end of the decade of his mural The Dance. In 1938–39, Matisse collaborated with the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo in the creation of a ballet called Red and Black (also known as Strange Farandole after a traditional Provençal dance that had inspired numerous works by the artist). Matisse designed the costumes, the stage curtain, and a backdrop laid out in three vaults to distinctly echo the Barnes mural. The costumed dancers supplied the mobile element in the performance. This section features one of the studies of a dancer that Matisse made in pre-colored cut papers—a technique that he had been using strictly for expedience in his studio practice but that would blossom in the 1940s into a full-fledged artistic procedure. A film of the troupe performing Red and Black made by an American dance critic in Chicago in 1939 contributes to bring this little-known modern ballet to life in the exhibition.

The narrative of Matisse in the 1930s closes with an epilogue centered on a major turning point that came soon after the end of the decade. In January 1941, Matisse underwent a risky operation for abdominal cancer; after this brush with death, he spoke of embarking on a second artistic life. At first, he painted little, but instead focused on a major effort in drawing: a corpus of 158 drawings of models in the studio and fruit and floral still lifes known as Themes and Variations. The exhibition’s epilogue highlights two complete sets of Themes and Variations drawings—together with a small selection of contemporaneous paintings on the same subjects—as Matisse’s summation of what he had accomplished in the previous ten years. With their serial and open-ended approach—as in Theme P, which depicts a woman in a pleated dress in a variety of poses—the Themes and Variations confirmed that, as the 1930s turned to the 1940s, Matisse’s notion of creative process prioritized the flux of fleeting perceptions and emotions over the fully finished, definitive statement.

Scholarly Catalogue

Matisse in the 1930s is published by the Musée de l’Orangerie/Musée d’Orsay and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press. Essays by the organizing exhibition curators, Matthew Affron, Cécile Debray, and Claudine Grammont, are accompanied by contributions from leading scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. It is the first publication to present an in-depth consideration of this key period that saw innovative developments in the Matisse’s image making, including the use of pre-colored cut papers to lay out and rework his compositions, and the use of the camera in his development of serial practices and process. The volume will look at the relationship between Matisse and the Parisian art journal Cahiers d’art, which played a key role in publicizing Matisse’s work during this period and in shaping public perception of his art. It will also include an illustrated chronology of Matisse and his work in the 1930s. Matisse in the 1930s (256 pp.; 75 color + 75 b/w illustrations) will be available in October 2022 in the Museum Store (cloth, $50). ISBN: 978-87633-299-3.


Matisse in the 1930s is co-organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, and the Musée Matisse Nice. Each of these three institutions has an important connection to Matisse’s art and contains rich holdings in his art of this period, making them natural partners for this first-of-its-kind exhibition. In France, the topic will be considered in terms of the promotion of Matisse’s work by the Parisian art journal Cahiers d’art, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a comprehensive survey of Matisse’s work in that decade.         



In Philadelphia, the exhibition is made possible by the Annenberg Foundation Fund for Major Exhibitions, The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick Fund for Special Exhibitions, the Harriet and Ronald Lassin Fund for Special Exhibitions, the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Fund for Exhibitions, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Buck, Mr. and Mrs. Christopher H. Gadsden, Mrs. Henry F. Harris, Independence Blue Cross, the Robert Lehman Foundation, The Leslie Miller and Richard Worley Foundation, Barbara A. Podell and Mark G. Singer, Katie and Tony Schaeffer, Robbi and Bruce Toll, Constance and Sankey Williams, and other generous donors.  

Support for the accompanying publication was provided by The Davenport Family Foundation and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. Promotional support has been provided by PHLCVB and Visit Philadelphia.  

Matisse in the 1930s is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. 

Promotional support has been provided by PHL CVB and Visit Philly. 

Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 19, 2022–January 29, 2023  
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, February 27, 2023–May 29, 2023  
Musée Matisse Nice, June 23, 2023–September 24, 2023

About the Philadelphia Museum of Art 

Philadelphia’s art museum is among the largest in the United States, with collections representing human creative achievement across two millennia. With more than 240,000 works of art, and strong concentrations in the arts of Asia, the Americas, Europe, and global contemporary practice, the museum offers an important cultural resource for the communities and schools of the Philadelphia region, while its collections and temporary exhibitions draw visitors from around the world. With the recent completion of architect Frank Gehry’s Core Project, which has greatly expanded the museum’s interior public space and enhanced the visitor experience, the museum continues to deepen its civic engagement, provide an engaging destination for families, and generate programs and exhibitions that expand the reach and meaning of art in our lives. 

Note: A gallery of reproduction images is available for download by media. 

About Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris

The Musée de l’Orangerie is located at the heart of Paris, in the Tuileries garden, surrounded by the Seine and overlooking the Concorde Square. Its collections are composed of The Water Lilies, the monumental achievement of Claude Monet, revealed to the public during the museum opening in 1927. Presented in two huge oval rooms, the Water Lilies are the crazy project of a painter who wanted to discover all variations of the light in his garden of Giverny. Known throughout the world, this masterpiece invites to an endless contemplation. In the 1960’s, the Musée de l’Orangerie has hosted the Arts à Paris collection, composed of works of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Rousseau, Soutine…, this collection shows all the artistic ferment of the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century.

About the Musée Matisse in Nice 

Inaugurated in 1963, the collection of the Musée Matisse comprises works donated to the Ville de Nice by the artist and by his heirs. Intimately linked to the studios where Matisse worked, the collection contains unique works such as Interior with Harmonium (1900), which was shown to the public for the first time in 1948 in Philadelphia; Seated Nude with Foliage--Sketch (1937); and Flowers and Fruits (1952–53), the largest paper cut-out still in France. In addition to paintings and cut-outs, the museum holds a rich graphic arts collection, an important part of Matisse’s sculptures, and an ensemble of personal objects. This exceptional collection is accessible to all. The museum’s 1200 square-meter exhibition space consists of a seventeenth-century villa refurbished and transformed by Jean-François Bodin between 1987 and 1993. Thanks to rich exchanges with museums around the world, recent exhibitions have explored Matisse’s work from new and different angles.


Philadelphia Museum of Art 
Norman Keyes, Jr. 215-460-9568/ norman.keyes@philamuseum.org

Musée d’Orsay: 
Gabrielle Lacombe 01 40 49 49 20/gabrielle.lacombe@musee-orsay.fr 
Silvia Cristini, 01 40 49 49 96/silvia.cristini@musee-orsay.fr

Musée Matisse Nice: 
Aymeric Jeudy +33 (0)4 97 13 56 97/aymeric.jeudy@ville-nice.fr 

Social Media @philamuseum;  TikTok: @philaartmuseum


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