Deja Vu

Matisse's "Bathers" Gets Fresh Look in Chicago

Although Matisse’s “Bathers by a River,” was long overshadowed by several Picassos at the Art Institute of Chicago, the French master is finally getting his due for the massive layered work and many others with a new exhibit, "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917.” The 8.5-by-12-foot work has been a part of the Art Institute’s collection for more than 50 years, but it was only recently that those who’ve been staring at it day after day realize its significance in Matisse’s impressive career. "When we acquired ‘Bathers' in 1953, [Matisse] said it was one of the most pivotal works of his career," said Stephanie D'Alessandro, an Art Institute curator. "It took us a while to figure out what he meant, I think." But once the team studied the experimental techniques the artist used to create the layers of the muted painting under an X-ray, they understood its importance. He worked on and reworked the painting on several occasions between 1909, when it was commissioned, and 1917—using it almost as his career’s sketchbook. When it didn’t sell, D’Alessandro said, “it became the thing that he experimented on.”