Term Paper: Classic View of the Matisse/Picasso

Pages: 7 (2440 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] But Picasso, having a different sensibility, could not as easily do this - he could not ignore the ugliness and threats which abounded ("Art Giants"). Sarah Milroy explains it by contrasting Matisse's "open-air delight in visual pleasure to Picasso's "congested nightmare of forms." Even during the worst days of Nazi occupation of France, Matisse's

...paintings register a defiant, even perverse buoyancy, with dazzling odalisques disporting themselves atop exotic tapestries, and succulent oysters ...spread out on a blue and pink tablecloth. Picasso, on the other hand, made of almost everything a congested nightmare of forms, crushed into the picture space with brutal vigor. We sense his claustrophobia, locked in his brain alone with only his own passionate intellect, intensity and paranoia for company.

One easy way to highlight these differing war time viewpoints is to examine a side-by-side comparison of Matisse's Still Life With Oysters (1940) and Picasso's Still Life With Sausage (1941). Both were painted in the midst of the deprivation of war but present two diametrically opposed outlooks. According to Budick, Matisse:

...offers up the standard iconography of the sexual still life: Delicate, glistening oysters represent the woman's sex, and a nearby table knife with a yellow handle has modestly phallic resonance. Picasso's monochrome Still Life With Sausage of 1941 suggests an altogether funkier set of associations. The knife is large, pointed and posed besides a sausage of indecent length.

Perhaps the different points-of-view can be partially explained away by their different perspectives. Picasso was living in Paris at the time and this city was ostensibly occupied by the Nazi's. Matisse was further from the 'front' front lines, living further south. But almost certainly, it comes down to the differing set of sensibilities as indicated above. Picasso simply could not easily shut out his surroundings the way Matisse could.

The Effect of Women on the Artists

The artists' differing treatments of women continues along the same divide seen earlier in almost every aspect of painting discussed so far. There are some small points of agreement given the fact that both men chose women for a large majority of their subjects. Likewise, both men seem to have remained somewhat in awe of them (Searle). But more often than not, the "subject of women was another sharp point of contrast." (Milroy). Consider Picasso's Nude Asleep in a Garden. This was a reaction to Matisse's Blue Nude, whose depiction "subtly contorts the angles of the body [of the subject] in a disorienting way." (Tuhus-Dubrow). But Picasso had to take this the extra step. The contortions he depicts are extreme - "the body is a jumble of parts, perceived, with the kind of urgent, everything-at-once simultaneity that parallels desire itself" Tuhus-Dubrow accurately says that it "makes Matisse's brand of eroticism look tame."

For Matisse, a "woman in a chair or a dancer may be wonkily drawn, hugely simplified, but her expressiveness never denigrates her. Picasso makes of similar poses shrieking, willfully distorted freaks." (Searle). Regarding sex, itself, Picasso sees it "as a grisly encounter with a devouring monster (who attempts to claw her way into the psyche of the artist), while for Matisse, the nude offers a heavenly, sybaritic delectation." (Milroy). But in both cases, they have borrowed (or at least implicitly picked up) Cezanne's attitude toward the female body which has been described as an "unsettled blend of love and loathing. Women - nude, clothed, in states of abandon and ecstasy - are [...treated...] both as abstract forms and as agents of inspiration and misery." (Budick). Only when Picasso eventually fell in love with his latest flame Marie-Therese Walter can critics find in his artwork less of the distortion and contortion and more of the colors and figures of the Matisse point-of-view.


Matisse and Picasso were, unquestionably, men of strong personality. This much has been revealed in the above discussion. Combine this with the now-accepted fact of their rivalry (termed "artistic duel" by Tuhus-Dubrow) and one can begin to understand the true nature of the relationship between the men. They were more than friends and more than rivals precisely because of the way their interaction brought each to greater heights of artistic achievement. Rivals create competition and the desire to do better than the next guy, but rarely does a feedback mechanism emerge like the one seen between Matisse and Picasso. Likewise, friends often encourage other friends to better themselves. But it is even more rare that an affable relationship will result in any kind of feedback either. In the end, the contradiction that embodied their interaction paradoxically created something more than either one alone.

References Cited

"Art Giants Of 20th Century." CBSNews.com Web Site. 13 Apr. 2003. 9 May 2003.

Bolton, Linda. Artists in Profile: Post-Impressionists. Chicago: Heinemann Library,


Budick, Ariella. "Titans of the Art World Face Off At MoMA, 'Matisse Picasso' shatters conceptions." New York Newsday.com. 14 Feb. 2003. 9 May 2003.

Greenlaw, Lavinia. "Matisse Picasso." PoetrySociety.org Web Site. 9 May 2003.

Hunter, Sam and John Jacobus. Modern Art. New York: Prentise Hall, 1992.

Milroy, Sarah. "Art's odd couple." Globeandmail.com Web Site. 9 May 2003.


Searle, Adrian. "A momentous, tremendous exhibition." Guardian Unlimited Web Site. 7

May 2002. 9 May 2003.

Trachtman, Paul. "Matisse & Picasso." Smithsonian Magazine. Feb. 2003.

Tuhus-Dubrow, Rebecca. "Comparing Genius," January Magazine.com. Apr. 2003. 9

May 2003.

Wallis, Jeremy. Artists in Profile: Cubists. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2003. [END OF PREVIEW]

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