I had the opportunity over Thanksgiving to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Matisse in the 1930s exhibition. While there, I was struck again by the vividly apparent connections between Matisse and the Wisconsin-based artist, Ruth Grotenrath – something I had thought about while curating Midwest Modernisms, on view at the Woodson Art Museum through January 29, 2023.
In 1930, 61-year-old artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was exhausted; following his earlier success and immense contribution to modern art, he struggled with his newly tepid feelings about painting. It was a 1930 commission by collector and modern art enthusiast Albert Barnes that revivified this interest. The project – a three-panel oil-on-canvas mural entitled The Dance – was installed at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. In Matisse in the 1930s, curator Matthew Affron asserts the commission revitalized Matisse’s creative interests and propelled his career into the later experimental breakthroughs he achieved. Thinking about the project, Affron describes the exhibition as “really a Philadelphia story.”
In the same way, artist Ruth Grotenrath (1912-1988) can be understood as a Wisconsin story. Born in Milwaukee, she trained, exhibited, and taught in Wisconsin galleries and museums. Matisse was an influence. Her bright, flat planes of layered color and gestural depictions of everyday objects converge to create compositions reminiscent of Matisse’s style.
Whether in Wausau or Philadelphia, be sure to catch these inspiring exhibitions. These image pairings are a “sneak peek” into the visual connections I saw!