Goldfish and Sculpture
Henri Matisse
Goldfish and Sculpture

Gallery H
French Paintings and Sculpture

By far the largest gallery in the show, Gallery H held an massive mélange of French paintings and sculpture. Critics focused their ridicule and praise on two artists in Gallery H, Henri Matisse and Constantin Brancusi. Although three of Matisse's earlier works were shown in Gallery R, toward the front of the exhibition, the paintings that gathered the most attention were found in Gallery H, next to the "Chamber of Horrors" (Gallery I). While the paintings of Marcel Duchamp and Frances Picabia were endlessly parodied and lampooned, Matisse's work was deemed by many to be much more offensive, immoral, and depraved.

Picabia and Duchamp abstracted the human form by dividing it into intersecting planes and simplified their palettes to browns and bright reds; Matisse's work was more representative, yet more monstrous, childlike, and primitive to many eyes. Harriet Monroe, Chicago poet and founder of Poetry, who was praised for her early support of the Imagists, was dismayed by Matisse at first and described his paintings as "the most hideous monstrosities ever perpetrated in the name of long suffering art" (Brown, Story 172). By the time the show came to Chicago a month later, however, Monroe was recommeding it to the public, even praising Matisse: "In a profound sense these radical artists are right. They represent the revolt of the imagination against nineteenth century realism . . . They represent a search for new beauty . . . a longing for new versions of truth" (Brown, Story 212). Other critics in New York, like Kenyon Cox, who had previously reviewed Matisse (Alfred Stieglitz had shown his paintings and sculpture twice already at '291') still found his work the "drawings of a nasty boy" (Brown, Story 170).

The Blue Nude, Le Luxe, II and Goldfish and Sculpture (above) were chosen by students at Chicago's Art Student's League as the most appalling and blasphemous pictures in the exhibition. The charges brought against him were "artistic murder, pictorial arson, artistic rapine, total degeneracy of color, criminal misuse of line, general aesthetic abberation, and contumacious abuse of title" (O'Brien 18). Further illustrating the contempt audiences had for Matisse is William Zorach's later recollection of the reaction to Le Luxe, II in New York: "Matisse's paintings seem to bother people most—especially one of a woman with only four toes" (Munson-Williams-Proctor 95). Matisse reportedly was so troubled by the public's reaction to his work that he implored in an interview, "Oh do tell the American people that I am a normal man; that I am a devoted husband and father, that I have three fine children, that I go to the theatre!" (MacChesney 5). While Matisse maintained aspirations to bourgeois gentility, his work was seen by some as an attack on the progress of Western civilization as a whole.


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