Exploring the Friendships of Picasso, Chagall and Matisse

Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. Friendships and conflict.

The Matisse Museum is housed inside an elegant 17th century villa high about the city of Nice where the artist lived.

Nearby, the Marc Chagall Museum houses religious themed paintings and stain glass masterpieces.

About 20 minutes west of Nice, the Picasso Museum is located inside a small castle overlooking the Mediterranean.

They say that greatness attracts greatness and for these three artists, Paris was the place they had in common and where they gathered to create some of their most famous masterpieces. Let’s take a look into what they thought about each other’s art, how they inspired one another and what happened when their paths crossed.

Picasso and Chagall

Both Picasso and Chagall were aware of each other’s works and activities and Chagall in particular, wanted to meet Picasso when he moved to Paris in 1910. While there were several attempts, they didn’t actually meet until around 1944. Chagall sent Picasso a letter requesting to meet and then traveled to Vallauris, where Picasso was living at the time, to meet him. It was the beginning of a 20-year friendship that would eventually end badly.

Throughout their friendship they enjoyed festive dinner parties together and visited each other’s studios often. They inspired one and other.


The friendship came to an end for the two greatest painters of the 20th century at a dinner at Chagall’s home in 1964. “When are you going back to Russia?” Picasso asked his host. They were both expatriots living in France. Chagall was Russian and Picasso was Spanish. “After you,” said Chagall with a smile. “I hear you are greatly loved there [Picasso was a Communist] but not your work. You try to make it there and I’ll wait and see how you do.”

Picasso didn’t like that answer, and after dinner he was feeling his wine and his guard was down. “I guess with you it’s a question of business,” he told Chagall. “You won’t go unless there’s money in it.”

Those at the table witnessing the scene say Chagall grinned at that remark but burned inside ever after. That was the end of the friendship.

But even after the friendship ended, Picasso still had great admiration for Chagall’s work. He once said of Chagall, “When Matisse dies, Chagall with be the only painter left who understand what color really is. … Some of the last things he’s done in Vence convince me that there’s never been anybody since Renoir who has a feeling for light that Chagall has.”

Chagall on the other hand, from that day forward, referred to Picasso as “The Spaniard” and when asked about Picasso, sarcastically said, “What a genius Picasso is. It’s a pity he doesn’t paint.”

Although the two never collaborated and the friendship sadly ended, they shared many wonderful years filled with dinners and ideas.

Picasso and Matisse

When these two great artists met in 1906, both were very much aware of each other’s works. They seemed to have little in common; Matisse was cool and calm, a Northern European artist. Picasso a hot tempered Spaniard. In their work, where Matisse is sensuous, Picasso is sexual. Matisse has a love of fabric, Picasso, a love of flesh.

And so it was, these two masters of modern paintings would seem to be playing a kind of chess game all their lives. They were both friends and rivals, enjoying each other’s company and were especially entertained with their many heated conversations. They often paid each other backhanded compliments. Matisse called Picasso “capricious and unpredictable.” Picasso described Matisse’s paintings as “beautiful and elegant.”

Matisse himself once compared the relationship to a boxing match. But they both had a deep respect and admiration for the other’s work. Said Pablo Picasso, “You have got to be able to picture side by side everything Matisse and I were doing at the time. No one has ever looked at Matisse’s paintings more carefully than I: and not one has looked at mine more carefully than he”

Francoise Gilot, Picasso’s partner at the time of Matisse’s cut-outs period, recalled “No one meant quite as much to him (Picasso) as Matisse.”

Matisse with photos of Picasso.

Matisse with photos of Picasso.

Matisse tolerated Picasso’s sarcastic remarks and maintained a paternal attitude towards the younger and more ill-tempered artist. Maybe that’s why he sometimes felt like he wasn’t given the attention from Picasso that he deserved. In March 1946 he wrote to his son Pierre that Picasso had visited him and had promised to come back. “He hasn’t come back. He saw what he wanted to see, my works in cut paper; That’s all he wanted. He will put it all to good use in time.”

Their friendship sustained to the end. “Only one person has the right to criticize me,” said Matisse, “It’s Picasso.” After Matisse died in 1954, Picasso said of Matisse, “When Matisse died, he left me his odalisques as a legacy.” referring to Matisse’s most popular subjects. He then proceeded to interpret them in a series of his own paintings. He believed to the end “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”

Matisse and Chagall

While these two masters looked to the same surroundings of Nice, France to inspire them, their artwork shares no similarities. And although they lived in Nice at the same time and both held important roles in the same artistic movement, Chagall and Matisse were not great friends. It would seem they must have surely crossed paths, but there’s little known about their relationship and one can conclude that there was little to speak of.

From the beginning of the 20th century, Nice boasted a vibrant artist community drawn to the sea, the heat, the light and the color. Matisse once confessed, “When I realized that every morning I would see this light, I couldn’t believe my luck.”

Chagall was also inspired by the sunlight and bright tones that would become quintessential to his work. “There, in the south, for the first time in my life, I saw a rich greenness – the like of which I had never seen in my own country.”

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You can find Chagall, Picasso and Matisse prints at GinaArt.  See original exhibition posters, DLM prints and edition prints on our “Artist” section. Click on the New Inventory tab to see our newest Picasso, Chagall and Matisse prints.

Odysseus & Nausicaa, Etching at GinaArt

Odysseus & Nausicaa, Etching at GinaArt

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