March 11, 2007


In the mid-1980s, the French painter, sculptor and film-maker Charles Matton decided that he ‘wanted to paint Realist interiors in the manner of the “moderns,” that is, without wasting time on painstaking technical processes.’ He first thought of photographing friends’ and fellow-artists’ apartments and studios, then painting over the resulting cibachrome prints, but at length settled upon an altogether different strategy: in small boxes he constructed detailed models of the interiors he had chosen to depict, and then carefully photographed those, eventually exhibiting the models together with the prints and paintings derived from them. The dolls’-house miniatures attracted such attention, that they soon became and end in themselves, and Matton has continued ‘wasting time’ on the ‘painstaking technical processes’ they require ever since.

A photograph by Sebastian Straessle of Charles Matton's 'Homage to Perec II,' boxed mixed-media constuction, 2002.


Detail of a photograph by Sebastian Straessle of Charles Matton's 'Library of Babel: Homage to Borges' (with eye-glasses): boxed mixed-media constuction.

Matton has said ‘…I create two kinds of boxes: those whose purpose is to re-create an atmosphere that has delighted me, a memory whose existence I wish to perpetuate; and the more objective pieces that are the result of a detailed examination of the “realistic truth” of a certain place.’ In the former category are the works depicting deserted hotel-lobbies and empty corridors, or, as in the case of the pair of images below, a Swedish bathroom. In other works the ‘atmosphere’ being reconstructed is a literary one, as in the ‘homages:’ elaborate library-scenes paying tribute to writers such as Perec & Borges (as in the images above); Proust & Joyce.

A photograph by Sebastian Straessle of Charles Matton's 'Bathing at Mariefred, Sweden:' boxed mixed-media constuction, 2005.


A photograph by Sebastian Straessle of a detail from Charles Matton's 'Bathing at Mariefred, Sweden' (with eye-glasses): boxed mixed-media constuction, 2005.

The ‘objective pieces’ are often re-creations of the studios or studies of artists or thinkers Matton admires: Francis Bacon’s chaotic South Kensington studio was the subject of one; William S. Burroughs’ squalid room in Tangier another; Sigmund Freud’s Vienna study a third (see the last of the present images, below). Other ‘studio’ boxes are partly or wholly imaginary, for example, the ‘Studio of a Classical Sculptor’ shown in the sixth of these images. Almost all of the elements in the boxes are made of epoxy resin, with marble-powder filler. ‘The objects are then painted, or patinated, to take on the form of gold frames, tubes of paint, parquet floors, brick walls ... marble overmantels, ashtrays, celadon vases and books…’ before being carefully put into position.

A photograph by Richard McCabe of Charles Matton's 'Le Grand Lulu:' boxed mixed-media constuction, 2000.


A photograph by Sebastian Straessle of a detail from Charles Matton's 'Studio of a Classical Sculptor:' boxed mixed-media constuction, 2001.

In her essay ‘Charles Matton: Meticulous Illusionist,’ Barbara S. Krulik writes that his work has ‘An antecedent […] in 17th-century Dutch perspective boxes [which] employed linear perspective to create a three-dimensional space in miniature.’ ‘Artists such as Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78),’ she adds ‘created boxes dealing with characteristic themes of the period including genre scenes and architectural views.’ And one could argue, perhaps, that Joseph Cornell’s boxes are (distantly) akin to Matton’s.

A photograph by Yann Matton of a detail from Charles Matton's 'Sigmund Freud's Study:' boxed mixed-media constuction, 2002.


Drawing of Freud's chair: preparatory sketch for Charles Matton's 'Sigmund Freud's Study.

The images (and much of the information) above were lifted from an article in issue 16 of (the new-format) FMR magazine (‘Charles Matton Encircled’) by the artist’s wife, Sylvie Matton (translated by Judith Landry), and from a small catalogue (‘Charles Matton: Within These Walls’) issued by the Forum Gallery, New York, to coincide with a 2002 exhibition of his drawings, paintings, photographs and mixed-media constructions.

Correction (added 02/07/08): the first, second, third, fourth and sixth of the photographs reproduced above are the work of Sebastian Straessle, and were scanned from issue 16 (Dec./Jan. ’06/’07) of FMR magazine; they are all copyright © Sebastian Straessle; the fifth photograph is by Richard McCabe and the seventh photograph is by Yann Matton, these were scanned from the exhibition catalogue cited above, and are copyright © the Forum Gallery, New York. The original works are copyright © Charles Matton. All the above images have been reproduced here only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site.

Posted by misteraitch at March 11, 2007 12:58 PM

Thanks, these look like fascinating works, I had heard of Matton in the context of his film Spermula, see




Posted by: Jan on March 11, 2007 07:46 PM

Fascinating stuff! Aside from the obvious precedent of 17th century peepshows, his work reminds me strongly of Michael McMillen. I vaguely remember that McMillen comes to this type of construction from working in movie sets in Hollywood, but I couldn't find the reference, so I may be making this up.

Posted by: on March 12, 2007 02:29 AM

Jan—Spermula certainly seems like the odd-one-out among Matton's movies: in the article I mentioned by Sylvie Matton, she manages to refer to all of her husband's films except that one!

Anon—Thanks for the link to McMillen’s work, which I had not seen before. I wonder if Matton’s experience in cinema influenced him when first making his boxes, which, I suppose, are almost like miniature set-designs.

Also, I should note that Matton has a personal site, including a selection of images of his boxes, which my various googlings oddly failed to turn up, and which I found instead courtesy of Laurent Gloaguen’s notice of this entry.

Posted by: misteraitch on March 12, 2007 01:47 PM

Oh, these are delicious. I love Cornell and perspective boxes.

And I think a more mundane link is to those elaborate nineteenth-century children's toys that are a single furnished room for dolls--I've seen a lot of the kitchens, in particular.

Posted by: marly on March 12, 2007 06:29 PM

Oops, sorry about my previous comment, I did not mean to enter it anonymously. One neat thing about McMillen’s environments is that they are sometimes rigged with tiny speakers that play bits of conversations, traffic hum, etc. I remember one piece that was only visible through the keyhole of the closed gallery! Kind of like Fischli and Weiss’s inaccessible broom closet installation (about which I can’t find any details at the moment).

Posted by: Michelangelo on March 13, 2007 03:02 PM

Very interesting post. Thanks for the introduction Marly. I have put a link on my Sculptor studio's blog. I do hope this is OK.

Posted by: Robert Mileham on March 14, 2007 06:40 PM
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