It almost goes without saying that no artist works in a vacuum. We are all influenced by artists that have gone before us, both those we've known and those we'd liked to have known. The fortunate amongst us are those who have had the experience of a soul-mate in the arts or something of an alter ego with whom we could share our evolution as artists. Picasso had Braque. Monet had Renoir. De Kooning had Rothko. In each case the relationship did not last forever and there was sometimes a little rivalry in hand with the sharing of aesthetic growth. Strangely enough, one of the less well-known artistic relationships of this sort was also one of the longer lasting. It was marked not by a close working relationship, but by a reserved friendship, mutual influence, mutual admiration, and a friendly rivalry that lasted throughout the working lifetimes of the two artists.
Henri Matisse was twelve years older than his counterpart, Pablo Picasso. Matisse was an established, respected, Fauvist making great strides in the torturous birth of Modern Art at the turn of the century when Picasso was a mere, brash upstart from the Spanish hinterlands, newly arrived in Paris and determined to make a big splash on the art scene of his day. Matisse was a wild, paint-slinging rebel whose gregarious colour statements on canvas made people gasp and shrink away in horror. Picasso was a creative genius laboriously plodding step-by-step through a surprisingly linear evolution that closely paralleled Matisse but in no way resembled him. Even then they knew each other and admired each other, and more importantly, began to borrow from each other--especially Picasso.
By 1929 however, Matisse was burned out and Picasso was in top form. It was then that Matisse found in the work of his younger rival, the inspiration to move on. His 1939 painting, Daisies is similar in many ways to Picasso's Basket of Flowers and Pitcher of 1937. Though kept apart during the Second World War, the two produced some of their most similar works during this time. Matisse's The Dream of 1940 is almost a carbon copy of Woman with Yellow Hair from 1931. Picasso's The Rocking Chair of 1943 harkens back to Matisse's Dancer in Repose from 1942. Picasso would outlive Matisse by 19 years. The loss of his friend/rival was deep and personal. He would not answer the phone for weeks as Matisse lay near death, and declined to attend his funeral. But his Woman in a Rocking Chair, done in 1956 is a painted tribute to their friendship. It has Matisse's colours, his patterned background, but with Picasso's twisted body parts. The Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, made this friendship the focus of an exhibit, "Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry" in 1999.