Henri Matisse, Polynesia, the sky (Polynésie, le ciel), 1946, gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on canvas, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, from Mobilier national et Manufactures des Gobelins, de Beauvais et de la Savonnerie since 1975 AM 1975-DEP 13. © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency 2021. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Bertrand Prévost / Dist RMN-GP

As part of the Sydney International Art Series 2021–22, the major exhibition Matisse: Life & Spirit, Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris at the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents the extraordinary range and depth of art by Henri Matisse, one of the world’s most beloved, innovative and influential artists.

The largest exhibition of the artist’s masterworks ever to be seen in Sydney, Matisse: Life & Spirit has been developed by the Art Gallery of NSW in collaboration with France’s leading modern art museum, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, which holds a world-renowned collection of Matisse’s work. This comprehensive exhibition will also include major loans from international institutions and private collections including The Lewis Collection, Musée Matisse in Le Cateau-Cambrésis and the Musée de Grenoble, France.

Featuring more than 100 works of brilliant colour and inventiveness, Matisse: Life & Spirit is an inspirational journey through the art and life of one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.

Comprising paintings, drawings, sculptures and a compelling presentation of the artist’s triumphant late ‘cut-outs’, many of which have never been seen in Australia, the exhibition reveals how Matisse constantly renewed and revitalised his art across six decades.

Exhibition highlights include an especially important early work Le luxe I 1907; the mid-career masterpiece Decorative figure on an ornamental ground 1925; the majestic and monumental ‘self-portrait’, The sorrow of the king 1952, one of the largest of the cut-outs that the artist created in his late career; and one of Matisse’s most famous works from his series of cut-outs depicting the female form, Blue nude II 1952.

At the heart of the Art Gallery’s exhibition is a special presentation devoted to the artist’s Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, in the south of France, which the artist considered to be the culmination of his life’s work. This presentation has been designed in collaboration with Sydney-based architect Richard Johnson and features life-sized maquettes for the windows of the chapel.

Curated by Dr Aurélie Verdier, curator of modern collections at Centre Pompidou, with Art Gallery of NSW head curator of international art Justin Paton and special exhibitions curator Jackie Dunn, Matisse: Life & Spirit continues the Art Gallery’s long-term engagement with French modern art which began in 1975, when it staged the landmark exhibition, Modern Masters.

The exhibition follows the Art Gallery’s enormously popular solo exhibitions of the great French modernists, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris in 2011, and Monet and the Impressionists in 2009.

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said he is delighted that the Art Gallery will stage its first major presentation of Matisse’s works for the 11th edition of the annual Sydney International Art Series.

‘We are proud to offer our visitors an encounter with one of the world’s greatest collections of Matisse’s work here in Sydney on Gadigal country. The exhibition traces the development of the artist’s practice from his early breakthroughs into fauvism through to his late, great experiments in colour.

‘These masterworks from the Centre Pompidou will reveal Matisse’s profound lifelong search to convey the vitality, joy and energy of the world as he saw it, which couldn’t be more relevant to our audiences today,’ Dr Brand said.

President of the Centre Pompidou, Laurent Le Bon, ‘I am very pleased of this collaboration between the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Centre Pompidou on this exhibition devoted to the great French artist Henri Matisse. This exhibition shows great prospect for future collaborations between the two institutions.’

Matisse: Life & Spirit is made possible with the support of the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW. The exhibition is part of the Sydney International Art Series, bringing the world’s most outstanding exhibitions to Australia, exclusively to Sydney.

Born in 1869 in northern France, Henri Matisse was a tirelessly inventive draughtsman, printmaker, painter and sculptor who was a pioneer of fauvism and the creator of some of the defining works of artistic modernism. Dedicated throughout his life to his artistic search, Matisse also lived through personal and political challenges, including two world wars and a battle with cancer. He made one of his most important bodies of work towards the end of his life, the famous paper cut-outs.

To celebrate the exhibition, the Art Gallery will present Matisse Alive, a gallery-wide festival of Matisse, featuring vibrant new work, projects and art from the collection, offering a unique chance to further explore the life, art and influence of one of the world’s most celebrated artists. Displayed alongside Matisse: Life & Spirit, Matisse Alive is a free program of art, music, performance and community, celebrating Matisse’s art as an inspiration, point of orientation and focus of dialogue for artists today.

Presented in Matisse Alive are four new artist projects that showcase contemporary perspectives on the ‘modern master’ and focus especially on his imagining of the Pacific and his representation of the female figure. These projects are by leading contemporary artists Nina Chanel Abney (US), Sally Smart (Australia), Angela Tiatia (Samoa/NZ/Australia) and Robin White (NZ). The presence of the Pacific in Matisse’s imagination is further explored with a stunning display of tivaevae – the Polynesian art of quilting – drawn from the Cook Islands community of South-Western Sydney.

Matisse: Life & Spirit, Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris is scheduled to open at the Art Gallery of NSW on 20 November 2021 and will be on display until 13 March 2022. Tickets on sale from 1 November 2021. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the Art Gallery website or purchase a Sydney International Art Pass at, to see both exhibitions and save 20%

The health and safety of visitors is the top priority of the Art Gallery, which will continue to be guided by the NSW Government’s health guidelines. On reopening next week, visitors will be required to comply with Public Health Orders; updates on requirements will be provided on our website.

Featured image : Henri Matisse, The sorrow of the king (La tristesse du roi), 1952, gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on canvas, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, purchased by the state, 1954 AM 3279 P. © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency 2021. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI / Philippe Migeat / Dist RMN-GP