A long engagement

Henri Matisse | France 1869-1954 | Grande odalisque à la culotte bayadère (Large odalisque in Bayadère culottes) 1925 | Collection: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris | © Succession H Matisse. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

A frequent question to curators and directors of art museums by media and visitors is ‘How long did it take to put the exhibition together?’

Of course there is no single answer, but on average, exhibitions of the scale and breadth of ‘Matisse: Drawing life’ take years rather than months.

In this case it is most certainly years. The Queensland Art Gallery and Art Exhibitions Australia presented an exhibition of Matisse’s work in 1995 which included paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. At the time it was suggested that an exhibition which exclusively considered Matisse’s works on paper was yet to be mounted. That was really the catalyst for this exhibition and in the intervening years, more research, correspondence, conversations and extensive planning has realised the current exhibition.

There are few twentieth-century artists whose work could sustain an exhibition which looks only at the marks they have drawn or printed on paper. For Matisse, drawing was a foundation stone for everything he did. The challenge in presenting an exhibition of his drawing is to reveal its evolution and centrality in his total practice, while at the same time exploring it as a singular and defining process with its unique and inimitable qualities.