Jack Flam is Distinguished Professor of Art History at Brooklyn College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His new book, Matisse and Picasso: The Story of Their Rivalry and Friendship, has just been published. (March 2003)

Twin Peaks

One day during the 1930s, Henri Matisse walked through the door of La Coupole on the Boulevard du Montparnasse and a visible thrill ran through the restaurant. As waiters raced forward to greet him Matisse turned to his companion and murmured, not without an edge of irritation, “They think I’m …

The Road to Minimalism

Sometime around 1960, the painter Ad Reinhardt defined sculpture as “something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” This summed up the longstanding prejudice against sculpture, which for centuries had been considered an art that was distinctly inferior to painting. Leonardo da Vinci famously argued …

Space Men

During its heyday in the late 1950s, abstract painting seemed to be at the center of modern art. Painting nonrepresentationally, which was then still considered a fairly radical practice, had become more or less synonymous with painting seriously—in fact, at the time many held that it was the only serious …

The New Painting

When a loosely associated group of rebellious French painters began to exhibit together in 1874, in what is now commonly referred to as the first of the original “Impressionist” exhibitions, they did not so define themselves. Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cézanne, Degas, and the others who took part in the exhibition …

Madonna in Distress

The controversy generated by the recent cleaning of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel has brought the technical methods and aesthetic judgments of painting conservators under unprecedented scrutiny. It has also made art historians acutely aware of how different the works they study today look from when they were made; …

The Agonies of Success

The life of Mark Rothko was filled with unhappiness and ended in tragedy. Born in 1903 and generally acknowledged to be one of the most important Abstract Expressionist painters, he suffered decades of disappointment and neglect, and endured painful personal losses and crushing poverty before he finally achieved recognition. His …

Passions of Matisse

In 1950 Bernard Berenson visited Henri Matisse at his apartment in the Hotel Regina overlooking Nice. Berenson, who had been one of Matisse’s early supporters, was irritated to find that the man whom he chose to remember as a starving young Fauve now displayed a seigneurial self-absorption even grander than …

The Alchemist

Anselm Kiefer, born in Germany in 1945, has come to be recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation. He is also among its most controversial, because of his obsessive use of themes from Germanic myth and history, and especially because of his use of imagery related to …

The Enigma of Georges Seurat

It is now exactly a century since Georges Seurat died of a brief but virulent illness only a few months after his thirty-first birthday. And so, following what has now become a kind of ritual among cultural institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is marking the hundredth anniversary of the …

Taming the Beasts

In the standard histories of modern art, Fauvism is considered the first major twentieth-century movement. Around 1905, the story goes, following hard upon the innovations of the Post-impressionists, a group of young artists led by Henri Matisse began to revolutionize European painting and make it really modern by using brash …

Invader

No artist is better known, or has been written about more or in greater detail, than Pablo Picasso. Hardly a year passes without some major book or exhibition being devoted to him. Hence all the pitfalls that await biographers of artists—particularly the need to move back and forth from the …

Monet’s Way

In an essay on Impressionism written in 1883, the poet Jules Laforgue described the Impressionist as “a modernist painter endowed with an uncommon sensibility of the eye,” who, forgetting the pictures amassed through the centuries in museums, forgetting his optical art school training…by dint of living and seeing frankly and …

Fleeting Impressionism

Impressionist paintings often seem somewhat like painted snapshots—views of a particular place at a particular time, so vividly rendered that they convince us utterly of their verisimilitude. Sailboats moored at the river’s edge, women lounging in a garden, sun-drenched fields of flowers—in Monet’s or Renoir’s depictions of such subjects, you …