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Baltimore Museum to Establish a Matisse Center in 2021

Jul 25, 2019

In a peculiar twist of history, the Baltimore Museum of Art is home to what is widely believed to be the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of work by Henri Matisse. That institution now hopes to become “the epicenter of scholarship” about the French artist, with the establishment of a center for the exhibition and study of his work that is slated to open in 2021, said Christopher Bedford, the museum’s director.

The museum has over 1,200 pieces by Matisse, many the result of a 1949 bequest by the Baltimore sisters and collectors Claribel and Etta Cone, who had amassed some 500 of his works, including the famous “Blue Nude” (1907) and “Large Reclining Nude” (1935). The museum has since acquired more than 700 others.

The new 3,500-square-foot facility, the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies, is supported by a $5 million gift from the Ruth Carol Fund. (Marder, a philanthropist, created the fund.) The center, which will take over part of the museum’s first floor, will offer new exhibitions and symposiums, but the primary goal will be to “establish a brain trust within the institution,” Mr. Bedford said. “What we’re really creating is something like a think tank focused on Matisse,” along the lines of the Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts (CASVA), a research institute within the National Gallery in Washington. Jay Fisher, a Matisse scholar and longtime curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, will serve as the center’s first director.

Yves-Alain Bois, a Matisse expert, said the center could considerably expand the historical record of Matisse’s life and legacy, which, surprisingly, contains significant holes. “Unlike Picasso, who really has been enormously studied, the bibliography on Matisse is not huge,” he said. “Certainly there is little written on the decade from, let’s say, 1925 to 1935.”

That is partly because Matisse’s archives stayed in his family. “They don’t have the resources to help all the scholars that come begging at their door,” Mr. Bois said. “If the center can help make materials readily available, it would be very helpful.”

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