NOW THAT we've learned all about Matisse from shows at the National Gallery in recent years, it's time to think about life after Matisse. That would include a pearl of a show visiting the Phillips Collection, called "After Matisse."
Paintings by 37 artists will ignite sparks of recognition. Whether it's the brilliant color, the grand scale or the simplified, flattened shapes, it's the same as in Matisse, but very different.
It's like following the lineage of a patriarch. Generations later, you find the same bright blue eyes -- or in this case, bright blue paint. There will be some offspring just as large or larger, and sometimes the nose will be the same. Here, the nose is a significant feature -- a window, a door, a vase of flowers, an odalisque -- that is a Matisse icon.
The inheritors of Matisse's way of seeing range widely: Mark Rothko, with his softly floating rectangles that, in an untitled work here, harken back to Matisse in their thinly painted colors. Richard Diebenkorn, whose delightful "Girl With Plant" recalls Matisse in Nice -- the window and the model sitting in front of it, but something else again. In Diebenkorn's, the forms are breaking up. And Miriam Schapiro, whose decorative work, "The Poet," depicts a flattened dress styled like something from Matisse's Moroccan storehouse and surrounds it with multi-colored cutouts.
Helen Frankenthaler's "Madame Matisse" copies only the colors from Matisse's painting of his wife. This abstract version is a glorious green underpinned with black and speckled with orange. Others borrow more liberally. Sherrie Levine takes a specific cutout and makes an ironic comment on it -- redoing it small, in watercolors. She has done similar things with the trademarks of other artists.
Matisse did "Nasturtiums and the Dance" as a painting within a painting; in it, a vase of flowers sits in front of his painting "The Dance." Gary Bower couldn't resist taking it one level further. He has loosely drawn two nude figures reaching across the Matisse composition, doing their own dance, in their own painting. The ecstatic figures reflect another vital Matisse element -- his joie de vivre.
AFTER MATISSE --
Through August 16 at The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW.