Matthias Schaller. Das Meisterstück


Piazza della Scala 6, Milan
Sala delle Colonne


From 1 July to 28 August 2022

From Tuesday to Sunday from 9:30 to 19:30, Thursday until 22.30

Monday: closed

Last admission 1 hour before closing


Full price €10, reduced price €8, special reduction €5 for Intesa Sanpaolo Group customers and under-26s; free admission for pass holders, schools, under-18s and Intesa Sanpaolo Group employees



The palette is an object found in almost every painter’s studio. It is usually a tool that remains out of sight of the public and critics, a silent witness to the work of the artist.

Can we get to know (and recognise) artists by their palette?

This is the question that German artist Matthias Schaller sought to answer following a trip to Cy Twombly’s studio in Gaeta in 2007. The well-known similarity between the palette used by Twombly and his canvases persuaded the photographer to embark on a genuine research project which, over the course of many years and many trips, has seen him visit dozens of museums, foundations and private collections, and immortalise the palettes that the great masters of the 19th and 20th centuries used to create their paintings.

When closely analysed, this simple work tool proves to be a bridge between the personality of the artist and their paintings. On every palette, the preparation of the paints, the texture of the colours applied, mixed and dried, the paint that has been removed, the strokes of the palette knife or brush, the stains, are all intimately associated with the hand, the body and the mind of the artist. The painting before the painting, these aspects all hint at the artist’s working method, their colour preferences, the way they transfer colour to the canvas; an intimate witness to the painter’s journey, the palette is the legacy they leave behind.

Transferred from the sphere of painting to that of photography, the palette dematerialises, losing all of its physical and material connotations; it takes on new meaning, a new status.

No longer a tool, it migrates into the two-dimensionality of a face-on, abstract view.

It becomes an image itself.

As Kandinsky reminds us, the palette is a “work […] often more beautiful than any work” (Wassily Kandinsky, “Rückblicke”, 1913).

On display in the Sala delle Colonne is a selection of 19 large photographs from this project which began 15 years ago and now consists of over 200 palettes belonging to 86 painters. The series is called “Das Meisterstück” (“The Masterpiece”).

Here a photograph of the palette of Giorgio De Chirico is compared with a painting by the same artist, Mannequins by the Seaside (1926), belonging to the Intesa Sanpaolo collection.


Matthias Schaller was born in Dillingen an der Donau, Germany, in 1965 and studied visual anthropology at the Universities of Hamburg, Göttingen and Siena. He graduated with a thesis on the work of Giorgio Sommer (Frankfurt 1834 - 1914 Naples), one of the most successful photographers of the 19th century.

Schaller’s work has been exhibited, among other places, at the Venice Biennale, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Ca' Pesaro and the Venice Glass Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Contemporary Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro, the Picasso Museum of Münster, the Victoria & Albert Museum of London, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum of Cologne, Museum Serralves of Porto, the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, SITE of Santa Fe and the Kunstpalast of Düsseldorf.

The artist has been awarded the Fellowship - DAAD, Rome in 1992, the Fellowship - Tokyo Wonder Site, Tokyo in 2008 and, in 2009, 2010 and 2020, the German Photobook Award. Schaller works with Galleria Casamadre (Naples) and the Sonnabend Gallery (New York City).

Matthias Schaller lives in Vienna and Venice.