TAMPA — The Tampa Museum of Art's gleaming new riverfront building will be the star when it opens Feb. 5, but it will have serious competition inside. Its inaugural show will feature prints, paintings and sculpture by Henri Matisse, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. And it marks another first: A major Matisse show has never visited the Tampa Bay area.
"A Celebration of Henri Matisse" is also the first comprehensive exhibition chronicling the modern master's lifelong interest in printmaking.
"We want to set the stage for future exhibitions that deal with modern and contemporary art. Matisse is one of the giants," said Todd Smith, the Tampa Museum director who has been working on getting the show for about six months.
It will occupy the museum's 5,000-square-foot special exhibitions gallery on the second floor of the $36 million project. The building's space totals 66,000 square feet and is under construction on Tampa's downtown riverfront off Ashley Drive. The majority of the 170 works are prints, about half from the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation and the remainder from the Baltimore Museum of Art where the exhibition originates. That institution is supplementing the foundation's prints with works from its own famous Matisse collection. Those additional prints, plus paintings and sculpture, will travel to the Tampa Museum but to no other venues on the exhibition schedule. Some of the prints have never been publicly exhibited.
Matisse (1869-1954) is considered by many experts to be the greatest artist of the 20th century; his only rival for that title is his friend and contemporary Pablo Picasso. Major Matisse exhibitions in the past have focused on his paintings, in which he uses startling colors and flat perspectives. But he was also a prolific printmaker, sculptor and draftsman, and the prints reflect his fascination, especially as he got older and no longer had the strength to paint, with pure line and abstract shapes.
His limited-edition prints are rarely seen in such quantity because all works on paper are more fragile than paint on canvas, subject to fading, so they're kept in dark vaults most of the time and rotated out for viewing infrequently.
Matisse used almost every type of printing process known. This group spans his career, from his early days as a student working in a formal, academic tradition, through his early experiments in post-impressionism and wild colors, to his later periods of greater refinement and simplification. Many are in black in white. The last print, made in 1950 four years before his death, is a colorful interior inhabited by a young woman.
The prints also reflect all the themes and motifs in Matisse's paintings. Women were his main subject, along with richly detailed interiors and patterned effects, and even rendered in monochromes, they project the artist's vibrant approach to representational images and his constant experimentation with line and form. For him, printmaking was an extension of drawing.
After Tampa, a smaller version of the show organized with prints from the Matisse Foundation travels to the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, and Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. It is organized by the American Federation of Arts from the collection bequeathed by Henri Matisse to Pierre Matisse, the artist's younger son and a respected international art dealer and collector of modern art.
The exhibition will continue at the Tampa Museum of Art through April 18.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293