Back in October we mentioned that a new exhibition of work Henri Matisse was due to open at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia. Well it was opened last Saturday by Queensland Arts Minister Rachel Nolan, and the groundbreaking display of Matisse artwork will serve as the highlight of the 5th anniversary celebrations for GoMA in Brisbane. What’s groundbreaking about it you may ask? Well, at the exhibition the focus will not be on Matisse oil paintings or sculptures, but solely and exclusively on his huge and often under appreciated catalogue of drawings.

More than 300 drawings have been brought together from the National Gallery of Australia, from international museums and galleries and from private collections, with a number of the works on show having never before been on public display. Matisse: Drawing Life, will run until March 4th 2012 and is a unique opportunity for Matisse enthusiasts in Australia to view a number of pieces that have never before left Europe.

The exhibition has in fact been in the works for almost 16 years, with Matisse’s grandson Claude Duthuit first suggesting it during a major retrospective of his grandfather’s paintings by the Queensland Art Gallery and Art Exhibitions Australia in 1995. Duthuit felt that an exhibition of his grandfather’s drawings would provide a more complete story of the French artist’s body of work, and although he sadly passed away in May of this year, Nolan said that, “the current exhibition stands as a testament to his vision”.

Organising Matisse: Drawing Life has been a massive undertaking for GoMA, being curated by Céline Chicha-Castex, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Prints, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, as well as independent Paris-based curator Emilie Ovaere-Corthay, in conjunction with Dr Miranda Wallace, the Queensland Art Gallery’s Curatorial Manager of International Art, Exhibitions and Research. The works on display offer a fantastic insight into Matisse’s creative process and shows the journey from some of his earliest known sketches right through to pieces he created just before his death.

Some of the works are preparatory studies for well known work while others are stand alone sketches, but the exhibition is emphasising the historical aspect of many of the drawings as a kind of diary of Matisse’s artistic career. Indeed, The Violinist was found rolled up under a bed by one of Matisse’s relatives who was completely unaware of its significance or value.

The interactive Drawing Room is another major attraction at the Brisbane gallery, and in addition to the documentary films which we mentioned last time, there will be panels of experts, tours and conversations on all things Matisse, as well as, in true Drawing Room fashion, the opportunity to have a go yourself and try drawing a life model, a still life or a violin just like the great man would have.

Drawing was central to Matisse’s process and as Tony Elwood, Director of the collaborating Queensland Art Gallery, said, “Many people know Henri Matisse as the master of colour but this exhibition will reveal why he was also the master of line … throughout his career, drawing underpinned all of his work, regardless of whether it was painting, sculpture or print.”