Quite a Pair

Matisse and Picasso at the Tate Modern

The long-awaited exhibition of works by Matisse and Picasso that opens at London's Tate Modern on May 11 promises to be a revelation, exploring the friendship, tensions, and other dynamics between two giants of modern art. "Initially there was open hostility, and each felt the other was his only real rival," says British art historian and curator John Golding. The show begins with pairs of paintings that demonstrate how the two competed—for example, Matisse's celebrated Blue Nude and Picasso's primitivist Nude with Raised Arms, both from 1907. At this time they were producing some of the most innovative art of the 20th century. Twenty years later they had grown closer, but it was only after World War II that they finally became friends. A few years before his death, in 1954, Matisse proclaimed that "only one person has the right to criticize me, and that's Picasso." Picasso reciprocated, saying, "There is only Matisse."

The exhibition will conclude with some telling juxtapositions of Picasso's sculptures—which became increasingly flat and pictorial—with Matisse's exuberant paper-cutout collages. According to Golding, the show will make clear that the two artists had a much stronger influence on each other than has previously been assumed. And does Golding believe one will emerge as the greater artist? "Unless they appear neck and neck, our exhibition will be a failure."