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THIS ‘book of the show’ will probably become a classic for anyone wanting a crash course in the major developments of 20th century art. The exhibition itself, an ambitious project and the brainchild of John Golding and Elizabeth Cowling for Tate Modern, was a triumph of collaboration with the world’s museums, foundations and private collectors bringing together art never before seen publicly in Britain. The supremely brilliant marketing trick was exhibiting them all together in a compare-and-contrast show of the two masters, who, although often twinned as the presiding geniuses of 20th century art, had a complex relationship, which forms the show’s and this catalogue’s premise; that Matisse and Picasso fed off each other artistically throughout their lives.

John Golding’s 12-page introduction exploring the mutual engagement between the two artists is lucid and impartial and the catalogue text offers one of the most compelling and rewarding stories of two supremely different personalities…

On colour, Picasso never matched Matisse in terms of subtlety and nuance, saying to Matisse: “I’ve mastered drawing and am looking for colour; you’ve mastered colour and are looking for drawing.” Matisse confided to a friend before a joint showing in London in 1946 that he felt he was about to cohabit with an epileptic and “that next to him, I always look like a little girl”. On how Matisse kept beside him in old age a dark and troubled portrait of Dora Maar, painted in wartime Paris, Matisse and Picasso swapped pictures all their lives, and how Matisse coveted a bitter landscape Picasso lent him during the Occupation.

Every year Matisse sent Picasso a box of oranges. Picasso never ate them, but kept them on display as Matisse’s oranges only to be looked at. Wonderful stuff… and how it added to the legends.

Within the catalogue, but sadly absent from the exhibition because it was too fragile to travel, is Picasso’s 1907 time-bomb Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – arguably the single most important painting of the 20th century – and London did not have Matisse’s Bathers With a Turtle, his response to Les Demoiselles (see Chapter 3 and pages 46 and 47 of the catalogue). Finely photographed, with a notes section for each chapter and a comprehensive chronology, this is a fine catalogue, mercifully free of pretension and cant.