Celebrate the BMA's 110th anniversary at the spectacular BMA Ball and After Party on Saturday, November 23, 2024.
Kikugawa Eizan. The Courtesan Oyodo of the Tsuruya Brothel; Tiger Hour (Tora No Koku), 4 to 6 a.m. (1812 or later). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Straton Family Fund. 2008.11
Kikugawa Eizan. The Courtesan Oyodo of the Tsuruya Brothel; Tiger Hour (Tora No Koku), 4 to 6 a.m. (1812 or later). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Straton Family Fund. 2008.11
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BALTIMORE, MD (May 30, 2024)—On June 2, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) opens a focus exhibition that explores artistic engagement with color and pattern in   19th-century Japan and 20th-century Europe. The Art of Pattern: Henri Matisse and Japanese Woodcut Artists brings together 14 paintings and prints by iconic Modernist painter Henri Matisse and some of Japan’s most popular woodcut artists—Kikugawa Eizan, Keisai Eisen, and Utagawa Kunisada. Across cultures, artists have used patterns to signal human desire, whether through the depiction of opulent background settings or lavishly adorned clothing. In the 1920s, Matisse often surrounded his models with heavily decorated interior backgrounds, using prints and patterns in his compositions to create and define the private spaces his figures inhabited. By contrast, early 19th-century Japanese woodblock artists depicted their female subjects more often in public spaces and clothed in ornately decorated and many-layered kimonos. These prints often show glamorized female courtesans and entertainers depicted as though on parade. The Art of Pattern: Henri Matisse and Japanese Woodcut Artists is on view June 2, 2024 through January 5, 2025 in the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies.

“The Art of Pattern gives visitors a wonderful opportunity to see the symmetries of two cultures and eras represented by some of the most prominent artists of their time,” said Asma Naeem, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “This exhibition is a visual feast that revels in the seductive beauty of patterns.”

Throughout his career, Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was fascinated with patterns and decoration. His work of the 1920s often featured European models posing in his studio as odalisques, or harem women, in costumes and surrounded by colorful, patterned textiles mostly drawn from the Islamic world. In compositions like Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard (1928) and Seated Odalisque in Tulle Skirt (1924), his focus was frequently split between creating the make-believe setting and conveying the sensuality of the objectified female figures in an interior space—both popular subjects made by European artists for a predominately male audience.

Distinctly, Japanese artists like Kikugawa Eizan (1787–1867), Keisai Eisen (1790–1848), and Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (1786–1865) presented many of their female subjects in public spaces, wearing layered robes embellished with recognizable, symbolic decorative patterns and motifs. Colorful woodcuts, such as Eisen’s Mt. Fuji from Izu Province and The Courtesan Kisegawa of the Owariya Brothel (early 1830s), featured courtesans or geishas who embodied an idealized concept of femininity and beauty. Other examples include Eizan’s The Courtesan Oyodo of the Tsuruya Brothel; Tiger Hour (Tora No Koku), 4 to 6 a.m. (1812 or later) and Kunisada’s Geisha Standing beside the Entrance of the Umewaka Restaurant (late 1820s). These prints—widely circulated in Japan— advertised businesses and products, influenced fashion, decorated homes, and promoted the illusion of a world of unencumbered pleasure, amusement, and diversion. The exhibition also features an ornately patterned obi or kimono sash.

The Art of Pattern: Henri Matisse and Japanese Woodcut Artists is co-curated by Katy Rothkopf, The Anne and Ben Cone Memorial Director of the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies and Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Frances Klapthor, BMA Associate Curator of Asian Art and Interim Department Head for the Art of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Pacific Islands.

This exhibition is supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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