I’d already written a sequence about Matisse and the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin, who’d assembled a collection 258 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in Moscow before the First World War. When we were in New York for the performances of my show at the Irish Arts Center, I’d seen the joyous Matisse painting Dance 1 in the Museum of Modern Art. It was a preparatory study for the Dance 2 painting which Shchukin had commissioned from Matisse. In the most amazing coincidence, I’d discovered that most of his collection was in the process of being re-assembled for the first time since it had been dispersed after the Russian Revolution, and that the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris was showing his collection between October 2016 and February 2017. So on Wednesday, 30 November, my friend and literary agent Fiona Coffey, Barry Breslin who had funded our trip to the US, Terry and I flew to France for the day to view the exhibition.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton is an extraordinary Frank Gehry building in the Bois de Boulogne, with a roof of twelve massive colourful sails that catch the reflections of the changing light. We’d arrived too early for our admission time, but when we told the young woman processing our tickets we’d flown in from Dublin, she said she loved Ireland from the happy year she’d spent in Dundalk learning English! She waved us through!
We were face to face with a succession of breathtaking Monets, Renoirs, Cezannes, Van Goghs, an awe-inspiring room of Gaugains, Rousseaus, Derains, Picassos. And of course, the shockingly vibrant colours of the Matisse paintings which had disappeared behind the Russian border to eventually languish in cellars as “degenerate” art, most of his output in the ten years leading up to the first World War. Veneration is the word that comes to mind.
It was a privilege to experience such glorious art, and the memory of that day will enrich my writing in the days to come, and deepen the perspectives that’ll be expressed in the book.