One of the joys of travelling is the accidental discoveries, the unplanned moments that reward the traveller in an unexpected way. So it was that we arrived at the small town of Le Cateau Cambresis in northern France, seeking only a bed for a couple of nights. How delighted we were to discover that this drab little town was the birthplace of the artist Henri Matisse, and that just steps from our hotel was the Matisse Museum.
Matisse was born in the town in 1869, and he was still alive when this museum was inaugurated in 1952 (he died in 1954). There are around 100 of his works here from throughout his artistic life, estimated to be worth around £14,000,000 in total. Matisse himself directed how his works should be displayed.
In the courtyard were some wonderful bronzes….
….including “Great Woman III” by Alberto Giacometti….(I wonder where Great Women I and II are?)
It was no surprise to see that Matisse’s early works were rather dark and gloomy, given the influence of the Flemish masters and, perhaps, his own colourless surroundings. His style changed dramatically after he was introduced to the works of Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin, resulting in the modern works more commonly associated with the artist.
The museum has a great cross-section of works by Matisse, including some beautiful pencil sketches.
The Teriade Collection features works by Matisse, Chagall and Picasso amongst others. Teriade founded the surrealist magazine “Minotaure” and counted a number of artists amongst his friends; many visited Teriade’s villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The museum recreated the villa’s dining room where Matisse designed the stained glass “Chinese Fish” window….
….and painted “The Plane” in black enamel on ceramic tiles. The dishes were made by Giacometti.
Here too are works by Auguste Herbin, born in 1882 near Le Cateau Cambresis. He was particularly influenced by Cubism and in 1925 produced this colourful piano, just right for the jazz age!
There is also a reproduction of his stained glass window made for a local primary school, and again reflecting (no pun intended) the Cubist style….
The delightful circus-themed pictures by Chagall were lovely….
….as were these sketches, also with a circus theme….
The most poignant exhibit was the recreation of a ceiling in Matisse’s bedroom where he sketched the faces of his children, using a brush tied to a broom handle. The painter said it was so that he would not feel alone. A reflective end to an otherwise inspirational day.