By  on June 23, 2005

NEW YORK — The power of textiles to inspire extends beyond fashion.

A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art here, "Matisse, The Fabric of Dreams, His Art and His Textiles," examines how textiles, which Matisse referred to as his "working library," played an integral part in many of his creations. It will run from today until Sept. 25.

The show includes 45 painted works and 31 drawings and prints and about 35 textiles that inspired many of them, ranging from fragments of printed cotton purchased at a flea market to Parisian couture gowns, carpets and African wall hangings.

This is the first time textiles that belonged to Matisse will be on public display. The artifacts, discovered in a descendant's attic in Paris by Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling, were shared with curators at London's Royal Academy of Arts, who contacted Gary Tinterow, Engelhard curator in charge of the Met's department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art. Tinterow and museum curator Rebecca Rabinow collaborated on the exhibit.

"There I was, holding up the toile de Jouy fabric that belonged to Matisse in an apartment in Paris and it was as if I was holding the Holy Grail," Tinterow said. "The pieces are just extraordinary."

Matisse's love of textiles is said to have started when he traveled on the top deck of a bus through Paris and spotted what he thought to be a toile de Jouy in what was essentially a junk shop. The fabric was actually a French resist-dye printed cotton and linen using indigo. No matter, it inspired several paintings including "Still Life With Blue Tablecloth" and "Pansies."

Fabrics in the exhibit include French Provencal cotton ikats from the 19th century; Indian silk phulkari embroidered fabrics from the late 19th century; silk brocades, possibly Japanese; as well as Tapa cloths from the South Pacific and Kuba cloths from Africa, which influenced the artist's painted paper cutout work from the late Forties and early Fifties.

"It's amazing to me that these non-Western textiles were the inspiration for his cutouts," Rabinow said.

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