Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917
March 20–June 20, 2010
Regenstein Hall

Rigorously purged of descriptive detail and sharply composed, the works Matisse produced between late 1913 and 1917 are among his most demanding, experimental, and enigmatic. While these works have typically been seen as unrelated responses to the influences of Cubism and World War I, this exhibition illustrates the deep connections between them and their critical role in an ambitious, cohesive project of developing what Matisse called “the methods of modern construction”—a process in which the act of creation itself was the main focus.

Unlike his earlier art, which was characterized by rich color and arabesque line, these new paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings are often rigorously abstracted, heavily reworked, and dominated by black and gray. Canvases typically show a multitude of paint layers and a nearly sculptural approach to scraping and incising; sculptures display a remarkable emphasis on geometry and structure; prints reflect and reinform the incising and scraping that the artist devised for his paintings; and drawings are frequently composed of a network of erasures and stumping, and elegant, spare line.

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917 explores how Matisse developed his own version of Modernism, one work after the next, during the most ambitious, unbridled, and radically inventive period of his long career.


The accompanying catalogue, incorporating over 650 illustrations—including never-before published archival, X-ray, and infrared images—exemplifies a new kind of art history that fully integrates historical, technical, and scientific information for a fresh look at this popular artist’s most demanding experimental, and surprising creations.

This catalogue will be available for purchase in the Museum Shop.


This exhibition is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


This exhibition was curated by Stephanie D’Alessandro, Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and John Elderfield, Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Lead individual funding is generously provided by an anonymous donor.

Major funding in memory of Bette and Neison Harris is generously provided by The Harris Family Foundation: Katherine P. Harris, Caryn and King Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, Stephanie and John Harris. Additional funding is provided by Irma Parker, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, and the Dedalus Foundation.

Major funding for the exhibition catalogue is generously provided by The Aaron I. Fleischman Foundation.

This project is partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Tourism.

Corporate support provided by the Motorola Foundation.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Alvin Langdon Coburn. Henri Matisse working from Back (II) to Back (III), May 13, 1913. Photograph courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, 1979:3924:0009.