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Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse were the 20th century’s greatest artistic frenemies. When Gertrude Stein introduced them in 1906, Matisse said he and Picasso were “as different as the north pole is from the south pole.”
An intense, competitive partnership followed, a kind of aesthetic war between Cubism and Fauvism. Picasso parodied and, some say, ripped off Matisse; Matisse condescended to the younger painter. But they also met regularly, traded paintings, and considered each other invaluable critics. As Picasso told Pierre Daix, one of his biographers: “You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at that time. No one has ever looked at Matisse’s painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he.”
Their rivalry was never consummated with a fistfight — unlike many artistic rivalries. If it had been, though, it might have looked a little like Au Lapin Agile, a new animated short by the renowned animation department of Paris’s Gobelins L’École de L’Image (or Gobelins School of the Image). Debuted at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, it depicts Picasso and Matisse in an epic bar brawl rendered in vibrant Cubist- and Fauvist-inspired forms and hues.
The fight goes down at the Lapin Agile, the Montmartre cabaret that was beloved of many generations of the Parisian avant-garde and that Picasso famously painted in 1905. In the painting, Picasso plays the part of a harlequin seated at the bar, next to his lover, Germaine Pinchot. In 1907, Picasso would paint his then-controversial masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” for which Pinchot modeled. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” largely overshadowed Matisse’s “Le bonheur de vivre” (or “The Joy of Life”), painted a year earlier, and which some critics say had a direct influence on Picasso’s painting.
The pressure to take sides in the Picasso-versus-Matisse rivalry persists today, in exhibitions like Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry at the Kimbell Art Museum in 1999. Those who were close to the painters had differing opinions about which one ultimately came out on top. “In their meetings, the active side was Pablo; the passive, Matisse,” said Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s partners. “Pablo always sought to charm Matisse, like a dancer, but in the end it was Matisse who conquered Pablo.” Watch the short film to see who prevails in the cartoon rendition of their rivalry.
h/t The Verge