Yve-Alain Bois

Yve-Alain Bois

Robert Lehman Visiting Professor
Matisse's Italy
2023-2024 (September - December)
Yve Alain Bois


Yve-Alain Bois is Professor of Art History Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which he joined in 2005. He taught for eight years at the Johns Hopkins University before becoming the Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. Professor of Modern Art at Harvard in 1991. He has written extensively on 20th-century art, from Matisse, Picasso and Mondrian to post-war European and American art. He has curated or co-curated several exhibitions, notably of the artists just mentioned as well as L’informe, mode d’emploi with Rosalind Krauss at the Centre Georges Pompidou and Ellsworth Kelly: Early Drawings at the Fogg Art Museum. Among other projects, he is currently working on the catalogue raisonné of Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings and sculpture.


Project Summary

Matisse's rare encounters with Italian Renaissance painting are acknowledged in the literature--from the copies he made of pictures in the Louvre during his youth to his first trip to Italy in the summer of 1908, when the toured Tuscany with his host in Fiesole, the voluble Leo Stein (who had introduced him to Berenson), and to his last, prolonged immersion in the Arena Chapel in September 1931. His ambivalence towards this art is also relatively well known (his strong dislike for High Renaissance painting versus his immense admiration for Giotto), but it is scantly discussed. It is as he tried to understand this dichotomy for himself, and articulate it for others, that he established a clear distinction between easel painting and what he called "architectural painting," a concept that became essential for him during the elaboration of The Dance, his mural painting for the Barnes Foundation (1931-1933). The most important impact that Italian art had on Matisse's is to be detected in the ceramic murals of the Chapelle du Rosaire that he designed in Vence at the end of his life, in particular the Stations of the Cross for which he made countless sketches, many of them based on Italian masters such as Fra Angelico, Uccello and particularly Mantegna. This mural, the last for which Matisse was able to work in the "architectural painting" mode, will be at the core of a re-examination of the artist's debt to the pictorial art of the Italian Renaissance.