MoMA’s ‘Matisse: The Red Studio’ exposes artist-patron conflict

The studio itself was not painted red, of course, but it was the first that Matisse had built specifically for his work, and in this respect Chtchoukine’s support was essential. Meeting Matisse in 1906, he became the artist’s most important collector, buying, among other things, three works specially created for his private mansion in Moscow: Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908), Dance II (1909–10), and Music (1910). Around the same time, Matisse had to leave his Parisian home when it changed owners. He and his family moved to a house outside Paris, Shchukin’s money allowing a workshop to be erected on adjoining land. Measuring 33 by 33 feet, it proved a step up from previous garrets that Matisse had rented, and remarkably, the exhibit contains original building plans and invoices of its construction.

Shchukin commissioned three more paintings with subjects chosen by Matisse. The first one, The pink workshop was an earlier, more conventional view of his workshop with work in progress, and met with Shchukin’s approval. The red studio not.

Writing to Shchukin, Matisse explained that the preponderance of the titular color (described as Venetian red) was intended as a “harmonic link” for other hues in the compositions, such as the green of a nasturtium to the left and the yellow rattan lounge chair on the right. He added, “Ms. Stein [i.e., Gertrude Stein] think it’s the most musical of my paintings. I pass on his opinion to you knowing that you appreciate it. Although

Although Shchukin appreciated Stein’s opinion in general, he did not in this case. He replied: “It must be very interesting, but I now prefer your paintings with figures…”. Since Shchukin’s proposal was non-binding, he refused the job, and the third order was cancelled. Despite everything, the patron continued to acquire Matisse’s work.

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