Picasso and Matisse had a legendarily complex relationship, with the two simultaneously existing as friends, enemies, rivals, and artistic mentors. From their first meeting in 1906 under the coordination of Gertrude Stein until Matisse’s passing in 1954, the two would serve as each other’s greatest critics, ranging from periods of mere stylistic divergence to instances of vocalized objection and distaste of each other’s work. Yet, the two obsessively and enthusiastically shared their work and frequently incorporated aspects of one another’s artistic developments, ultimately challenging and expanding their own personal practices. It is for these reasons that they regarded each other as their only true rivals and artistic equals: as Matisse and Picasso are both known for saying, “We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things that the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else” (quoted in Matisse/Picasso, The Museum of Modern Art (exhibition catalogue), New York, 2002, p. 24)
Picasso was terrified of death and when Matisse died, he “possibly felt…some aspect of himself had been removed” (ibid., p. 24). Consequently, certain commentators have suggested that the plaster head that appears in the first Atelier series is here replaced by a blank canvas placed on the easel, as if Picasso was symbolically calling out to the departed Matisse and inviting him to paint (ibid., p. 171). In this way, L’Atelier serves as both a dedication to Matisse and as Picasso’s momento mori, a grappling with his very own fears of death heightened by the complex loss of Matisse, the only other artist he considered to be his equal.
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