Matisse and Friends at the DAM Is What the Future Looked Like a Century Ago

Matisse and Friends Denver Art Museum 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

There's a tight and tasty little painting show in the Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building right now that has really flown under the radar. I'm talking about Matisse and Friends, which closes in just a couple weeks.

There are some undeniably important pieces here -- and they should have caught our attention, but maybe they haven't because the entire show is made up of only fourteen works. Or maybe it's because Brilliant, the Cartier show, has out-dazzled everything else.

See also: Review: Crammed Full of Cartier "Ice," the DAM's Brilliant Is the Perfect Winter Show

Though Matisse's name is in the title, the show is mostly made up of works by his friends. There are only four Matisses included, but all are worth looking at.

One, "Open Window, Collioure," is an acknowledged masterpiece. It expressively depicts a view of a harbor filled with boats, framed by window panels at the sides and potted plants across the bottom. It dates from 1905, the year the term "Fauves" was coined to describe Matisse and his circle of friends. It was meant to be insulting; it means "wild beasts" in English, with the reference being to the signature Fauvist moves of crude brushwork, perfunctory drafting and the use of unnatural colors.

There are other Fauvist masterpieces in the show, including two paintings by André Derain. The first is "Mountains at Collioure," also from 1905, wherein Derain crosses his new found Fauvist sensibility with a Cézanne-esque one.

In the second, "View of the Thames," Derain brings in the influence of Monet, and with him, Turner. Here, in just two paintings, Derain is able to synthesize many of the various prevailing currents in vanguard art in France during the first few years of the twentieth century, a watershed moment.

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There's also a stunning Maurice de Vlaminck, "Tugboat on the Seine, Chatou," in which the artist conveys the scene through stubby and sloppy dashes of bright colors. Vlaminck was a decidedly uneven artist, but when he was on, as he was when he painted this piece, he was really on. Also check out the bizarre Kees Van Dongen portrait, and the lyrical pair of harbor scenes by Raoul Dufy.

There was only one thing I didn't like about the show: the "cozy" seating areas in front of the paintings. The ersatz traditionalism of the tacky chairs and couches suggested nothing other than a Ramada Inn lobby. It was a failed experiment in exhibition design.

The otherwise fabulous Matisse and Friends runs through February 8. The Denver Art Museum is at 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway. For additional details call 720-865-5000 or go to denverartmuseum.org.

Turn the page to see more photos from Matisse and Friends.

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