Henri Matisse. Bourgeat Resembling Vassaux. 1914.  The Baltimore Museum of Art: Marguerite Matisse Duthuit Collection, BMA 2010.104. © Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri Matisse. Bourgeat Resembling Vassaux. 1914. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Marguerite Matisse Duthuit Collection, BMA 2010.104. © Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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BALTIMORE, MD (August 30, 2023)—On November 5, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) opens Etched in Memory: Matisse’s Early Portraits, a focus exhibition that offers a rare look at some of the first etchings made by French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954). During the tumultuous early years of World War I, Matisse’s home served as a meeting point and respite for friends, neighbors, and refugees—many of whom became subjects of his early etchings. The exhibition features 14 of these works, offering a compelling view both into the artist’s first forays with the etching process and individuals such as Madame Matisse, Josette Gris, and Walter Pach who comprised his inner circle in 1914-15. On view through April 21, 2024, the exhibition is presented in the BMA’s Jay McKean Fisher Gallery in The Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies and draws on the museum’s extensive Matisse holdings.

Etched in Memory perfectly embodies the vision of The Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies, inviting our community to see works that are rarely shown and offering new insight into Matisse,” said Asma Naeem, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “Matisse’s artmaking and legacy is unparalleled in continuing to move so many and inspire artists and thinkers from all over the world. These beautiful and intimate portraits provide a unique glimpse of him as both a person and artist living and working during a perilous time.”

Matisse was a prolific printmaker and produced a variety of drypoints, etchings, lithographs, linoleum cuts, and woodcuts throughout his long career. Early in the 20th century, he acquired a small second-hand printing press, which allowed him to produce rapid etchings that gave the immediacy of snapshots. He made more than 50 delicate but powerful portraits of family members, friends, artists, artist’s wives, and others beginning in 1914. The seemingly spontaneous and organic nature of Matisse’s etchings belied the intensive process. He covered a copper plate with an acid-resistant ground layer, composed of a mixture of beeswax, bitumen, and resin. Matisse drew through this ground with a sharp needle to expose lines of bare metal. He then immersed the plate in acid, causing the drawing to be etched into the metal. Lastly, he removed the remaining ground layer with a solvent then inked and printed the plate.

According to Walter Pach (1883–1958), a friend of Matisse’s who is also represented in an etching from this series, the artist was not always satisfied with his drawing. On occasion, Matisse used turpentine to wipe away his sketch through the waxy ground, recoated the plate, and used it for another sketch. Although he thought there would not be any evidence of his initial marks on the plate, in at least one instance, the facial features of one figure appear in an image of another. Matisse also reworked motifs and focused repeatedly on the same subject, such as the model Loulou Brouty, who is shown in several works where the artist explores form and line. While Matisse is known for working with female models for most of his career, these early etchings are also remarkable for their numerous depictions of male sitters.

Etched in Memory: Matisse’s Early Portraits is 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 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, in consultation with Thomas Primeau, The Charles K. Williams, II, Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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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