Henri Matisse lived for a long time in Nice. Arrived in 1917, the colors and the light of the Riviera influenced his work. David Hockney, he lives further north, in Normandy, and since 2012, he has tackled still life on Ipad. Everything could separate them, the flower brought them together. They are exhibited together at the Matisse Museum. Visit as part of this fragrant and colorful Arts Biennial.
The fragility of flowers in painting at the Biennale des arts
The flower was already depicted on the walls of the caves of prehistoric man. Since the 16th century, still life has been a favorite theme for painters. Van Gogh’s sunflowers have become a poster and Brueghel’s garlands of flowers are precision jewellery. Why this attraction among painters?
The answer is given by Jean-Jacques Aillagon, general curator of the Biennale des arts: “Painting flowers on the verge of when it will fade, it is the beauty of life and all its fragility that is expressed.” The flower as a summary of life could only fascinate artists. Through the windows of the Massena Museum, you can see the eternal silhouette of the palm trees of the Promenade des Anglais and the significant blue of the Nice Mediterranean. These visions inspired painters drawn to light. Came here, Dufy, Chagall, Matisse.
On the wall of this stylish villa where one imagines the receptions of another time, that of Napoleon III, posters from the beginning of the 19th century recount the time when the trip to the Cote d’Azur was a journey. The gaze falls on a poster created by Marc Chagall. Like a tourist and advertising slogan, Chagall announces the subject: “Nice, sun and flowers”. In another room of the museum, it is Berthe Morizot’s orange tree branches that make you want spring sweets. Only the odorama would be missing. In the works gathered at Massena, the flower is both a tourist argument, an Art Deco interior, and a scent of nostalgia for the Garden of Eden.
Matisse’s fresco: a dip in a garden
Direction the heights of Nice, towards the Matisse museum. Since 1989, the Villa des Arènes has housed the Matisse Collection. An imposing building to house the work of the most Nice of French painters. It was necessary to present Flowers and fruits. This fresco measuring 8.70 meters by 4.10 meters is a composition in cut-out gouache paper, produced in 1951. It opens the exhibition in a spectacular way A paradise found. A face-to-face, or rather a side-by-side between Matisse and Hockney.
“Matisse has always been fascinated by flowers”, says Claudine Grammont, director of the Matisse Museum. “A bit like Claude Monet, he liked to look at their colors and their blooms. It’s a motif that recurred in his painting throughout his life.” To stay on the sofas of the Matisse museum facing this fresco is to enter an interior garden. Arrived at a degree of simplicity, purity in the forms and in the choice of colors, the painting leads to serenity, to grace. “You are transported in color” insists Claudine Gramont. “There are flowers everywhere for whoever wants to see them“, wrote the painter in 1947, at the end of the war. Proof of his will to fight grayness and fear. For him it was a way of seeing the world with enchantment. A fixed and delicate idea for Matisse.
David Hockney’s “Fresh Flowers”, digital flowers from confinement
On the floor above, a long alignment of still life, 40×60 format. here are the Fresh flowers by David Hockney. Last October, a 90 meter long frieze was installed at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Its author: David Hockney, precisely, one of today’s most highly rated painters. One of the last active pop art artists. It is famous for its Californian swimming pools of the 60s. The fresco told the four seasons in its Normandy countryside. It was also a tribute to water lilies of Monet.
In Nice, the British painter presents for the first time his fresh flowers, still lifes of flowers in a vase on a table. The subject seems outdated, perhaps a bit kitsch or too post-modern for an artist who has shaken up the art world. That would be to forget that Hockney is still a young man. These flowers, the Englishman paints them on Ipad. Since 2010, he has been using this technique. He says in the exhibition catalog that he always painted them in the same place, when the low sun casts shadows. He chooses the flowers from the florist in Dozulé, in Calvados, close to his home. The result is stunning.
The flowers are digitally printed on twelve-color printers, insists David Hockney, a master in technology as well as in painting. The light seems to come out of the drawing. And the water in the vase becomes transparent. “I’ve always loved drawing water and transparent things. That’s why I made swimming pools.” The circle is complete between Hollywood 1970 and Normandy 2020.
Hockney-Matisse, almost a no-brainer
Bringing the two artists together was not immediately obvious. Yet the similarities as you walk through the exhibition become clear. Hockney admires Matisse’s use of color. “Picasso and Braque used line, Matisse used color”. Matisse like Hockney painted a lot of interiors with a view. Throughout their careers, they have sought to represent this light that emerges from outside. Matisse in his studio-apartments in Nice. Hockney in California. Matisse was always concerned with reproduction. David Hockney, obviously too. His Fresh flowers prove it. “I’m almost certain that Matisse would have been passionate about painting on the Ipad.”
And as Claudine Grammont, who went to look for Hockney in her Norman refuge, says: how can we not draw a parallel between two aging artists finding a subterfuge in their impeded bodies? Matisse with his paper cut-outs and Hockney with his Ipad. A way of saying that creation will be stronger than old age. These comparisons become the guide of this beautifully named exhibition: A paradise found.
The Nice Arts Biennial: Flowers! until December 31, 2022 in 11 museums in the City of Nice