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Matisse gets 'radical' in Chicago

March 18, 2010 |  2:40 pm

Matissephoto I've just come from the press preview at the Art Institute of Chicago for "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917." The show opens Saturday, and I'll have a full review early next week.

Suffice it to say that this is one of those exhibitions that visitors will talk about for years, whether they're art enthusiasts or professional historians. Look at the numbers: The show zeroes in on a crucial 4 1/2-year period in Henri Matisse's development, when he made some of his toughest, most memorable and sometimes strange and enigmatic works, and it brings together more than 117 paintings, sculptures and works on paper to examine every aspect of that, well, "radical invention."

Midway through I felt greedy. I began to miss two pictures from 1913 -- a seated portrait of his wife, Amélie, and "Arab Coffeehouse" -- which did not travel from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Small matter, though, given the exceptional array that is here -- and given how thoroughly and compellingly this marvelous show articulates a pivotal episode in Modern art.

Matisse (1869-1954) is one of those artists who made the world look as it does today. The Art Institute show, which travels to New York's Museum of Modern Art in July, helps us to see that achievement with fresh eyes.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, 1882-1966). Henri Matisse painting "Bathers by a River," May 13, 1913. Photograph from George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester. Credit: Art Institute of Chicago.

Follow Times art critic Christopher Knight @KnightLAT on Twitter