Matisse in Baltimore

May 31, 1994

The current Matisse exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art reminded Franklin Mason, a retired Evening Sun copy reader, of the great French painter's visit to Baltimore. Under the headline ''Cultural Rumor'' The Sun editorialized on December 17, 1930, about the possibility that Matisse might immortalize Baltimore on canvas. He visited his patrons, the Cone sisters, but Baltimore remained uncelebrated in the master's style -- except in the drawing reproduced here, titled ''Charles Street Evening -- or Matisse Comes to Baltimore, with Respectful Apologies,'' by The Sun's Edmund Duffy. Henri Matisse, the reports are, is contemplating a visit to Baltimore, and a visit of more than casual courtesy. M. Matisse is indirectly quoted as saying that he wants to paint some Baltimore street scenes. Remembering that he is one of the greatest (many would say, unqualifiedly, that he is the greatest) living painters, this is a break for Baltimore.

Indeed, it is the city's first opportunity in a long, long while to escape out of the hands of the adoring and adorning etchers into the canvases of a serious artist. We doubt that anything Baltimorean ever has been recorded by an artist of such importance and genius as this former leader of the fauves and present prince of modernists.

It is clear that such a visit -- if it ever comes to pass -- will affect the city. Matisse is already splendidly represented here in the Cone Collection, recently exhibited at the Museum of Art, but it cannot be said that he is a definitely popular painter in local circles. His impressive presence here, however, could be counted on to alter much of the nonchalant allegiance to the Munich school. Persons who have never heard of painting like his and who would not believe it if they did, will go to bed like people who know what they like and wake up as connoisseurs. And more persons, who will be interested less in Matisse than in the fact that he is going to ''paint this city,'' will gravely place the honor with the announced preferences of Mr. G.K. Chesterton and Mr. St. John Ervine for Baltimore, and will distinctly recall that this is all in the tradition -- that, after all, this is Poe's city. And the effect on the professional artists and art students should be electric. Something, in fact, rather like a violent short circuit. And that will not hurt any.

Of course, M. Henri Matisse might change his mind. Indeed, we have thought of this as we wrote every sentence. But we very sincerely hope that he does not. He will bring so many admirable and desirable things here besides his paint box.

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