Russia is the first country to begin importing works by Henri Matisse (Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, 1869 - Nice, France, 1954). Following the significant success of his paintings at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1905, the works of the young artist begin to reach Russia, although the collector Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin - who also purchases works by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin and other young avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Kees Van Dongen - becomes interested in Matisse's work even before his first exhibition is held in 1904 at the Parisian gallery Vollard.
In Shchukin Matisse finds support in a period of greatest need when selling paintings is far from easy - Shchukin purchases some of his best works and promotes them among his circle of friends. The Dance, considered one of the French artist's finest pieces, was created especially for the collector.
Shchukin shares his devotion to Matisse with another of his compatriots, Iván Morozov, who acquires eleven works by the artist. The Shchukin and Morozov collections are nationalised and turned into independent museums as a result of the Russian Revolution. Five years later they merge to form one museum, the Museum of Modern Western Art, that lasts for a quarter of a century, until 1948; the collections are subsequently divided into the Pushkin Museum and the State Hermitage Museum. At the beginning of the Thirties some of the paintings are moved over to the Hermitage following a decision by the government regarding the partial redistribution of museum wealth between Moscow and Leningrad.
The exhibition in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is not anthological, but rather a representation of Matisse's output between 1901 and 1913. It comprises a selection of twenty-four oil paintings and fourteen drawings belonging to both Russian museums,which, since the time they we presented in the Grand Palais in Paris in 1970, have had a profound impact on art scholars and art lovers from different countries.
Matisse's Fauve and post-Fauve periods represent his most quintessential works and are represented in these examples, which discern a process that stems from his admiration for Paul Cézanne and encompass influences that arise from his penchant for Arabic and Oriental handicrafts. His travels around Andalusia and Morocco become a mainstay in his work in the form of polychrome to which the persistence of dimensions can be added, where only contours mark a change of level and volume.
The exhibition is made up of masterpieces that include The Red Room (1908), The Game of Bowls (1908), Still Life with Blue Tablecloth (1909) and The Painter's family (1911). In 1910 Matisse visits a large exhibition of Islamic Art in Munich that leaves a profound impression on him. In The Painter's Family the Eastern influences are found in aspects such as the chessboard, which articulates the composition, the settee and the decoration of the mantelpiece. To create the work Matisse is inspired by Persian miniatures as he recreates a social scene in which the figures take centre stage.
The exhibition also includes other indispensable canvases such as The Dance (1909), the Moroccan Amido (1912) and the collection made up of View from the Window. Tangiers, Zorah on the Terrace and Door of the Casbah created by Matisse in 1912 as a triptych. The exhibition also features Portrait of the Artist's Wife, presented on its own in the Salon d'Automne and is one of the few canvases painted in 1913.
Due to an exchange between institutions, and in parallel with this exhibition, in the two Russian museums a selection of works by Pablo Picasso that belong to Spanish collections are displayed.