Bonheur de Vivre at Bernard Jacobson

Matisse, Miró, Calder et al celebrate beauty, colour and light

Bonheur de Vivre, the latest exhibition to grace the elegant walls of London’s Bernard Jacobson Gallery (opening March 17 and running until May 27), is joyous indeed: a show of 16 works (£50,000-£10m) that celebrate beauty, colour and light by five 20th-century artists who have inspired Bernard Jacobson’s love of modern art. Henri Matisse rubs shoulders with Joan Miró; Alexander Calder sits with Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell.

Few exhibitions encapsulate so perfectly Calder’s belief that “above all, art should be happy and not lugubrious,” but Bonheur de Vivre is also more than a collection of deeply cheering works. The title comes from Matisse’s seminal Fauvist painting Le Bonheur de Vivre and the works on show here are part of the revolution in art that it subsequently inspired. The extraordinary luminosity, colour and reduced linear forms of Miró’s Femme et Oiseau series and Femme Devant La Lune (third picture), for example, owe much to Matisse, whose Jeune fille à la mauresque, robe verte (1921, second picture) is on show.


The connections continue through the gallery. Calder’s three mobiles, flickering with red, yellow, white and black discs (such as the hanging mobile Blue Flower, Perforated Red, 1960, first picture) reflect the fluid lines and bold colours of both Miró and Matisse’s work, while American artist and printmaker Sam Francis’s two paintings, Untitled (1959, fourth picture) and EV (1970), feature abstract shapes that seem to dance, Calder-like, around an empty central space.

The show ends with Robert Motherwell, an artist who has said that seeing his first Matisse “shot him in his heart like an arrow”. His early homage collage Joy of Living is not on show here, but the two works that do appear – US Art New York NY (1959) and Sacre du Printemps (1975, fifth picture) – have an animated playfulness that is redolent of the French master.

It is always exciting to be presented with a new perspective on familiar names, and Bonheur de Vivre offers a fascinating new insight into on these 20th-century greats. However, its greatest triumph is to gladden the hearts of its audience. See it and feel your spirits lift.


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