First Look at the Art Gallery of NSW's New Matisse: Life & Spirit Exhibition

The Sorrow of the King, Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI

Australia’s biggest art institutions are reopening with a bang. Akash Arora and Marian McGuinness have the lowdown on th Art Gallery of New South Wales' upcoming Matisse: Life & Spirit exhibition.

There are many reasons co-curator Justin Paton feels this exhibition is a must-see. “It’s the most substantial encounter with Matisse that Sydney has ever been offered,” he says. “It’s the fullest encounter with his late, great, revered works, the cut-outs, Australia has ever seen.” But perhaps most compelling of all is that the show comes to the city at the end of a trying period. In its 150-year history, the Art Gallery of NSW has only closed its doors on three occasions – once in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic and twice during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “It feels wonderfully timely to bring about 100 incredible works by Matisse here at the end of a couple of very challenging years.”

Ask Paton what his favourite work in the exhibition is and he’s quick to answer. “The Sorrow of the King is a work I only dreamt we’d be able to bring to Sydney because it’s so large and seldom travels.” Completed when Matisse was in his eighties, the cut-out is one of the artist’s most exuberant and ambitious pieces. “It portrays a nighttime chamber, a king, a musician and a dancer. The key to this work is that the king at the centre of the picture is Matisse himself. It’s the last self-portrait of the artist at the end of his life and to my mind it’s very poignant.”

Where to stay

Find bold splashes of colour – lime-yellow leather couches and magenta velvet chairs – at Ovolo Hotel in Woolloomooloo, an easy stroll to the Art Gallery of NSW. Check into the spacious Superoo room with its king-sized bed and eclectic artworks or the Cityvoo for its skyline views. On-site Alibi restaurant serves plant-based dishes from American chef Matthew Kenney.

Image credit: Philippe Migeat /Dist RMN-GP

Matisse: Life & Spirit will be at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney from 20 November 2021 to 13 March 2022.

SEE ALSO: Sydney’s Best Art Galleries and Exhibitions in One Walking Trail


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