BMA exhibit pairs Matisse and Diebenkorn

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Carol Sorgen

The influence of French artist Henri Matisse on the work of American Richard Diebenkorn is the focus of a new exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. “Reclining Model with a Flowered Robe,” drawn by Matisse in 1923, is paired in the exhibit with Diebenkorn’s “Woman Seated in Chair,” drawn 40 years later.
©2016 Succession H. Matisse / ARS NY

The first major exhibition to explore the influence of French artist Henri Matisse on the work of American artist Richard Diebenkorn is on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through Jan. 29.

Called “Matisse/Diebenkorn,” and co-organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the exhibit brings together 36 paintings and drawings by Matisse and 56 paintings and drawings by Diebenkorn, drawn from museums and private collections throughout the United States and Europe.

The exhibit is designed to show how Matisse’s work influenced that of Diebenkorn. The BMA is the only East Coast venue for this exhibition.

“While much has been written about Matisse’s influence on Diebenkorn, this is the first major exhibition to illustrate the powerful influence of Matisse’s work on one of America’s most significant artists,” said BMA Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture Katy Rothkopf. Through the works selected, Rothkopf said the BMA hopes to give viewers the opportunity to discover Matisse as Diebenkorn did.

Inspiration from a master

Richard Diebenkorn’s “Woman Seated in Chair”
©2016 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn, one of America’s most acclaimed post-war artists, was born in 1922 and died in 1993. He counted Henri Matisse (b. 1869, d. 1954) as the artist who inspired him the most.

The BMA exhibit is organized chronologically, beginning in the 1940s with some of the Matisse works first seen by Diebenkorn at the home of Sarah Stein, one of Matisse’s first patrons, in Palo Alto, Calif.

Diebenkorn was so taken with Matisse’s work that he began studying the artist and visiting as many museums holding Matisse’s art as possible, including the BMA (in addition to the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York).

The exhibition includes examples of Diebenkorn’s abstract paintings, as well as selections from his more representational period from the mid-1950s to 1967.

In 1964, Diebenkorn and his wife, Phyllis, travelled to the Soviet Union and visited collections of Matisse’s paintings in the State Hermitage Museum and the Pushkin Museum. Two years later, he viewed a Matisse retrospective in Los Angeles, comprised of more than 300 artworks.

Abstract Ocean Park series

In 1967, Diebenkorn moved to Southern California and his paintings reflected the color and light that inspired him to create his “Ocean Park” series, nine of which conclude the exhibition. (His painting, “Ocean Park #89,” sold for $9.68 million in a 2014 New York auction.)

The paintings of both artists are paired by style, color and motif. Some of the pairings seem more obvious than others (especially during Diebenkorn’s representational period), such as Matisse’s 1918 “Interior with a Violin” juxtaposed with Diebenkorn’s 1962 “Interior with Doorway.”

Other similarities can be seen in depictions of both artists’ studio spaces, Matisse’s “Studio Quai Saint-Michel” compared with Diebenkorn’s “Studio Wall, 1963, both of which include chairs in front of a dark wall papered with the artists’ works in progress.

Coinciding with the exhibit are the following special events: Chief Curator Emeritus John Elderfield will speak on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. Admission is $10, free to BMA members; and Art After Hours and Closing Party on Friday, Jan. 20, $25 for tickets, $20 for BMA members.

Tickets to “Matisse/Diebenkorn” are available through and at the BMA Box Office, 10 Art Museum Dr. Prices are $17.50 for adults, $15 for seniors and groups of 10 or more, $10 for students with ID, and $7.50 for visitors age 7 to 18. BMA members and children 6 and under are admitted free.

The museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (443) 573-1701.