Exhibition at Musée Matisse, Nice, France

Nice, France. After Seeing Matisse: Robert DeNiro, Sr. - Paintings and Drawings,through May 31, 2010.

The Musée Matisse presented an exhibition of the works of Robert De Niro, Sr. as part of its mission to promote the works of Matisse through different points of view, on this occasion, as a source of inspiration. The exhibition includes a presentation of photographs of Robert De Niro, Sr. in his New York studio along with figurative paintings, interior studies, still lifes, landscapes, and a series of the artist’s works on paper.

The relationship between the body of work of Robert De Niro, Sr. and the oeuvre of Matisse is seen in numerous works. DeNiro’s female nudes in an interior recall the manner in which Matisse placed his model on an armchair and organized the elements of décor that surround her. Yet unlike Matisse, De Niro’s palette was more muted. The treatment of color, in backgrounds or graphic lines, is organized in more abstract combinations and preserves the movement of the stroke and his improvisation. These differences serve as proof of the space created between the sources of inspiration and the personality of an artist.

In the words of Matisse:

Drawing also counts tremendously. It is the expression of the possession of objects. When you know an object profoundly, you can determine from one exterior line what will define it on the inside.1

There exists then an essential truth to draw from the sight of the objects to be represented. This is the only truth that is important.2

The object is not so interesting in and of itself. It is the context that creates the object. It was in this way that I worked all my life in front of the same objects that gave me the strength of reality by focusing my mind on all that the objects had passed through for me and with me. A glass of water with a flower is a different thing from a glass of water with a lemon. The object is an actor: a good actor can act in ten different plays, an object can play a different role on ten canvases. We don’t take it alone; it evokes a group of elements.3

In still life, copying the objects is nothing; they must be given the emotions that they awaken in one. The emotion of the group, the correlation of objects, the specific character of each object – modified by its relation with others – all that tangled up like a rope or a snake.4

The object must act powerfully on the imagination, the feeling of the artist must be expressed and render the object worthy of interest: it only says what one makes it say.5

The drawings of Matisse in charcoal and pen, like the series Thèmes et variations(1942-1943), the Grand Acrobate (1952) in brush and Chinese ink, and Arbre(Le Platane) (1951), as well as the paintings Intérieur à l’esclave (1924), Figure endormie (1941) represent Matisse’s constant research on the simplification of the line, and are a form of expression adopted in the large drawings of Robert De Niro, Sr., with the same techniques. The lines are erased along with the creation until nothing remains but the final drawing, which breaks free from the stumped surface.

In the words of Robert De Niro, Sr.:

"If I am forced to repeat, until near exhaustion, the same charcoal line over and over again or the same brushstroke while I paint, it is because I am nothing but an “old nag” who knows himself too well and who must endlessly find ways to surprise himself. Not, as many of my colleagues do, by accelerating my gestures in the hope of discovering, as if by accident, surprising bits that I might be able to use later. A comfortable technique that has proven itself, but which I was always careful to be wary of. Just as Hans Hofmann, my former professor, taught me when I was so young, I immediately erase without the least regret anything pretty or particularly good that has appeared on the canvas. That is why I am

surrounded by chamois leather or rags soaked in turpentine when I draw. More than speed, what is important is to erase, always erase, systematically. If, as Picasso assures, painting is “love made visible”, this method is for me the only way to most honestly transmit this light that belongs only to me and that can only reach the spectator once I am in the canvas and not in front of the canvas. All things

considered, the ideal would be to succeed in painting with closed eyes, like children do. This only happens very rarely, two or three times a year. If by luck, fortune chooses to smile on me."