Matisse’s faces: “A portrait is a quarrel”

Free talk

Talks

● Fully booked

Monday 2 October 2017
1 — 2pm

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Part of our

Matisse in the Studio

events programme
Go to exhibition page

Ellen McBreen

Photo by Jonathan Beller

Independent co-curator of ‘Matisse in the Studio’, Ellen McBreen, examines a series of iconic portraits featured in the exhibition and highlights the role of portraiture in the artist’s move towards abstraction.

After seeing her 1913 portrait, Matisse’s wife Amélie wept in despair. Later, Auguste Pellerin, the margarine magnate, asked Matisse to begin again because he found his portrait too daring to hang in his office. “A portrait,” Matisse concluded, “is a quarrel.”

Long, laborious studio sessions with Matisse frequently resulted in portraits that did not please their subjects. Portraits were not just a quarrel, but an intense site of contestation between physical resemblance and what Matisse understood to be the more lasting, essential character of the person he was portraying. In his efforts to reveal the inner identity of his sitters, Matisse was directly inspired by African and other non-Western traditions. In this talk Ellen McBreen, Associate Professor of Art History at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and co-curator of the Matisse exhibition, highlights how specific objects from his personal collection – a Yoruba mask, a Buddha bust, and a medieval head – provided the artist with alternative models for the visual expression of individuality and identity. These objects were not only stylistic resources for his abstraction, but also conceptual justifications for it.

All unclaimed seats will be released at 12.55pm and a returns queue will be held from 12.30pm in de Grey Court.

Ellen McBreen is an art historian specialising in late 19th/early 20th-century French art and visual culture. She is the co-curator of Matisse in the Studio, and co-editor and author of the accompanying exhibition catalog. Her book Matisse’s Sculpture: the Pinup and the Primitive was published by Yale Univeristy Press in 2014. She is currently associate professor of art history at Wheaton College in Massachusetts (USA).

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

Monday 2 October 2017

1 — 2pm

The Reynolds Room, Burlington House, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly

Free, booking required.

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