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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Picasso and Matisse exhibition
Picasso and Matisse exhibition

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

Alkarim, did juxtaposing the painters in such a way add to your understanding of each of these artists, or not?

Absolutely. You see the parallels and interconnections. When I went to see the show, I didn't go with a glad heart.

My heart usually sinks at the idea of these blockbuster shows, because usually they're triumphs of marketing over material, but this is a real treat of a show. It's scrupulously balanced. The problem with it is that it's much more than the sum of its parts.

It invites comparative assessment, and Picasso emerges much better out of the comparative assessment.

Is it an invidious comparison, because what the appearance of certain paintings encourage you to do is to think they responded to each other immediately, whereas that presumably was what the curators created?

Sometimes they were responding to one another immediately. However, if you look at the work as a whole, Picasso emerges as a much more gutsy, visceral, much less decorative painter.

He has double, triple and quadruple meanings in his canvas, whereas Matisse is much flatter literally and figuratively.

Germaine, did it alter your view of Matisse?

I wasn't sure how well Matisse had weathered. I knew what I thought of Picasso, because he has been beating me round the head ever since I was born, practically.

I was seeing pictures I knew very well, and whose power I didn't doubt, although some of them haven't worn that well. Some are actually bad paintings.

But we were meant to see the way these artists communicated with each other, and I came away with a blinding sense of enormous contrast.

A man came up to me and said, "If you had to choose one picture, which would it be?" And I said, "You are asking me to choose between beauty and power."

I would rather live with beauty than power. I could not live with Picasso. Every single painting is about himself. The ego is there all the time, whereas what does Matisse do?

He has a much less challenging approach to the picture space, but he is very interested in the space between the picture and the viewer.

He is letting you in.

There is always a warmth there. There is something extraordinary, and I am sure Picasso realised this - a face drawn with three strokes of the brush and it is welcoming, sexy and separate at the same time.

He is an amazing artist. Also, people built on what Matisse did. They couldn't build on what Picasso did.

There is evidence from some of the notes and writings that Matisse made that actually Picasso was quite unsettled by Matisse.

Particularly, he envied his use of colour. What about you, Mark? Did you know these works?

No. I thought the exhibition was wonderful, not because I think the paintings are wonderful but because the juxtaposition was so good.

I thought they had created this Lennon and McCartney thing, with Picasso being the spiky Lennon, while Matisse was doing the slightly softer...

There are the children's images and the fact it's much more childish work. All the way through, I thought that that tension - whether or not it was created by the gallery, it was beautifully put together.

You have the comparison of the three dancers. This thing you said about you couldn't live with Picasso, but you could have the Matisse, and there's this lovely text on the wall which explains the surrealists thought Picasso was wonderful and Matisse was just a total load of old bunk.

I felt the same way as I do about the Beatles. I own three Paul McCartney albums and no John Lennon albums. At the end of the day I'd like to go home with the Matisses.

At the end of the day, the juxtaposition worked beautifully. The pop tunes were the Matisse's that I liked.

We're not being asked who we want to live with. We're being asked who is the better artist.

And if it adds to your understanding of each of these artists and the milieu in which they were working.

I think two paintings are completely emblematic of these differences between the two artists. One is Still Life With Sausages, painted by Picasso in 1941 when France had fallen.

If you look at the painting, the life and colour is drained out of it, the sausage is coiled like viscera, we've got artichokes that look like severed hands, cutlery like armoury.

If you compare it with Still Life With Oysters, painted by Matisse within months of Still Life With Sausages, it's a bright, buoyant painting about oysters. It's about the privations, not about the horror of war.

Yet it was painted just before Matisse was about to enter a really awful cancer operation.

Absolutely. If you look at their personal lives, Picasso was in Paris, under surveillance by the Nazis. Matisse was being broadcast for Vichy radio, talking about the delightful song birds that he had.

Though there's been some divide here - people have been saying recently that Matisse was very much part of Vichy France. But that has been denied in many ways by the curators at the exhibition.

He had a semi-detached relationship with them. He was certainly broadcast on Vichy radio.

For goodness sake! If this exhibition is no more than evidence of the private lives of these painters, we have been wasting our time.

It's not really about them or the situation in which they stood with regard to their mistresses or their penises or the Nazis. It's actually about what painting is for, and they had a completely different notion about what painting was for.

Matisse thought painting was consolation, it was harmony. It was like music, like bird song. He is, if you like, Mozart and Picasso is Beethoven.

That's the extraordinary thing. Some of the connections in the exhibition are pretty forced. The pictures are actually from different periods, and in some cases the obvious parallels aren't there.

You have the artist drawing the nude from Matisse, and none of Picassos etchings of the artist and his model, which are clearly attempts to do something like what Matisse was doing.

I think Picasso was too smart not to know that he couldn't sing the song that Matisse was singing.

Don't you think in one way the exhibition is deeply moving because you do see these men were really struggling to create this art, and they actually had a connection.

The idea that they disliked each other was just a confection, it didn't exist. They actually had great respect for each other's work.

That wouldn't preclude disliking each other or being rude about each other. Everybody uses other people as a springboard if they are in that game, so that they see a proposition that an artist makes and they think they have a better solution for that question.

I think there was this kind of rivalry. It was a love-hate relationship. It was wonderful what happened when they had to choose a painting from the other studio, and they chose the worst painting that the other had.

Allegedly they chose the worst painting, though I don't think they actually did. When you look at it, that's not the worst painting.

See also:

12 Apr 02 | Panel
26 Apr 02 | Panel
10 May 02 | Panel
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