This exhibition proposes a new interpretation of the relationship
between classicism and modern art in the first half of the 20th
century. The key to this interpretation is the notion of form. Formalism,
a theoretical position which placed greater emphasis on form over
content in the work of art, was fundamental to the birth of the
new, avant-garde art of the 20th century and to its break with the
art of the previous century. In addition, formalism encouraged one
key trend of modern art, which was the quest for a new classicism
in the 1920s and 1930s.
The exhibition is structured thematically around eight rooms.
1.- The nude, form, repose
This room includes late works by artists trained within the context
of Impressionism, such as Renoir and Cézanne, as well as paintings
from the first decade of the 20th century by artists of the next
generation, such as Matisse and Picasso. Also on show are sculptures
by Maillol and Bourdelle which have close links to the subject examined
in this room.
2.- Line, movement, the Golden Age
In this room works by Matisse and Picasso, also produced in the
first decade of the 20th century, are juxtaposed with others by
Degas. All reveal the ambivalence of line when it has to define
both the form and movement of the figures at the same time. Dance,
paradigmatic of the human body in movement, is associated with the
classical idea of the Golden Age.
3. Order in Nature. Landscapes
4. Order in Nature. Things
Following his death in 1906, Cézanne became the key reference
for Matisse¹s development and for that of the Cubist painters,
as well as for Derain and the post-war classicist painters. Looking
to Cézanne, these artists favoured the genres of still-lifes
and landscapes with figures (generally nudes).
In room 3, four landscapes by Cézanne are shown alongside early
Cubist landscapes by Derain and Braque and landscapes with classicising
figures by Sunyer and Carrà.
In room 4, three still-lifes by Cézanne are shown with paintings
by Derain, Morandi and Sironi. The hanging is completed by a number
of works by Juan Gris in which still-life and landscape are combined
together to form one image.
5.- Masks and portraits
In addition to landscape and still-life, the return to the traditional
genres of painting encompassed the portrait. However, this genre
involved the need to capture the physical likeness of the subject
and his or her most distinctive features, demands difficult to reconcile
with the basic principles of formalism and classicism. This contradiction
was resolved through recourse to the theatre and the notion of the
theatrical role, whether social or professional. Role, personal
identity and mask are presented as equal. Three important works
by Picasso are shown in this room, together with works by Gris,
Derain, Sironi and Dalí.
6.- Painting, discipline of the visible
The earlier rooms in the exhibition demonstrated how Cézanne's
genius was the basis for an exploration of pictorial qualities related
to line, volume, space and composition. Bonnard and Morandi, however,
focused on line and colour, and can therefore be seen to be continuing
Cézanne's Impressionism to some extent. The phenomenology
of vision is at the basis of the discipline of painting; while,
conversely, the discipline of painting with its continuing evolution
is what teaches the painter to look.
7.- Form, weight, myth
This room is dedicated to the classicising works which Picasso painted
from around 1920-1925. Their stylistic features reveal a process
of development which the artist had started in 1906 and which was
interrupted by Cubism. Nonetheless, alongside their purely formal
characteristics, Picasso's work of this period is increasingly imbued
with emotional content and is also inclined towards the mythical.
8.-Line, the dance, metamorphosis
At the beginning of the 1930s, Picasso and Matisse each independently painted a series of paintings in which the representation of movement through line became the key element in the painting. The linking together of forms through the imagination (the principle of metamorphosis), displaces the intention towards stability and objectivity of the forms. Classicist formalism has exhausted its historical cycle and breaks down in order to give way to a variety of aesthetics which characterise the arrival of fully developed modern art.
© Sucesión H. Matisse 2001
© Pablo Picasso.Sucesión Picasso/VEGAP. Madrid, 2001
© Pierre Bonnard. VEGAP. Madrid, 2001