Dr. Soubies, Paris (acquired from the above and sold: Drouot, Paris, June 14, 1928, lot 66)
Baron Fukushima, Paris & Japan (before 1933)
Private Collection, Japan (sold: Sotheby’s, London, July 2, 1974, lot 48)
Acquired at the above sale
Berlin, Galerie Thannhauser, Henri Matisse, 1930, no. 46 (tited Mädchen und guitarre and as dating from 1921)
Tokyo, National Museum; Kyoto, Osaka & Okoyama, Henri Matisse, 1951, no. 52
Albert C. Barnes & Violette de Mazia, The Art of Henri Matisse, Merion, 1933, no. 162, illustrated p. 338
Raymond Escholier, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1937, illustrated p. 57
Mario Luzi & Massimo Carrà, L’opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta ‘fauve’ all’intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 375, illustrated p. 101 (titled Donna con chitarra and as dating from 1922)
Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-87, illustrated in a photograph of the 1923 exhibition p. 240; illustrated in a photograph of the 1930 exhibition p. 262
Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Henri Matisse chez Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1995, vol. II, no. 547, illustrated p. 1109
Having spent many years dividing his time between Paris and Nice, Matisse first took this apartment in 1921, and retained it until 1938, transforming it with paintings, mirrors, curtains and decorative screens, and creating a theatrical setting in which to depict his models. Fascinated by textile decoration and ornamentation, the artist always chose colorful, ornate motifs to serve as a backdrop to his figure paintings. Since his early interiors, Matisse demonstrated a delight in depicting the arabesques and floral motifs appearing on curtains, wallpapers and table-cloths, often transforming the entire painting surface into a continuous pattern. In the present work, the interior is dominated by a blue flower-patterned screen, a red carpet and a red table-cloth. The bright yellow of the woman’s dress and her pink skin stand in contrast with the deep tones that surround her.
Matisse’s paintings of the 1920s are largely devoted to the subject of a female figure in an interior setting. Although strongly stylized, and depicted with no attempt at anatomical naturalism, Matisse’s portraits and figures were usually painted from live models posing for him, as documented in numerous photographs of the artist’s muses in his studio. Like most of his paintings from this period, the lavishly ornamented interior of this work evokes the artist’s travels in Morocco in 1912-13, which provided him with a life-long source of inspiration. La Femme en jaune is an extraordinary example of Matisse’s ability to combine the genre of portraiture with his penchant for depicting wildly colorful interior spaces and costumes. Here, he achieves a perfect balance between the strong, eye-catching details of the fabrics that constitute the background, and the woman’s body, with her delicate skin-tone, her striking facial features and black hair, and her voluminous yellow dress.
Matisse's model for the present picture was Henriette Darricarrère, who started working with the artist in 1920. Although Matisse considered her his primary source of inspiration, Henriette would stop modeling for him after her marriage in 1927. In her recent biography of the artist, Hilary Spurling provided a wonderful description of what Matisse saw in his model: "Henriette was a living sculpture. The finely modelled planes of her torso and limbs caught the light... Her body articulated itself like a cat's into compact rounded volumes – breast, belly, haunch, hip, calf, knee – flowing smoothly into and out of one another from the calmer regular oval face to the balls and heels of her bare feet" (H. Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, p. 270).
Matisse first met Henriette, who was a ballet dancer, in September 1920, while she was performing at the Studios de la Victorine in Nice. She started modelling for the artist shortly afterwards, and according to Jack Cowart, "her family recounts that he encouraged her to continue her lessons in piano, violin, and ballet, also allowing her time to paint and attend musical and other social events in Nice" (J. Cowart in Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 27). Indeed this artistic and sensual side of his young model must have fascinated Matisse, who often painted her in a role of a musician, playing the piano, accompanied by a violin, as in the present composition, or as a painter in front of an easel. On other occasions Matisse dressed her in exotic oriental costumes, and painted her in the role of the Odalisque, one of his most celebrated subjects.
Jack Cowart wrote about the appeal Henriette held for Matisse: "During her seven years of modeling, Henriette excelled at role-playing and had a theatrical presence that fueled the evolution of Matisse’s art. Earlier, Lorette and Antoinette had initiated the exotic odalisque fantasy, but it was Henriette whose personality seems to have been most receptive. She adopted the subject roles more easily and could express the moods and the atmosphere of Matisse’s settings without losing her own presence or her own strong appearance. Her distinctive physical features – a sculpturesque body and a finely detailed face with a beautiful profile – are evident in many of the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper" (ibid., p. 27).
Discussing Matisse’s portraits executed during his years in Nice, John Elderfield noted: "His model is shown in decorative costumes – a striped Persian coat, a Rumanian blouse – and the decorativeness and the very construction of a costume and of a painting are offered as analogous. What developed were groups of paintings showing his model in similar or different poses, costumes, and settings: a sequence of themes and variations that gained in mystery and intensity as it unfolded" (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 357). Indeed, like a musician composing variations on a given theme, Matisse constantly rearranged the pieces of furniture, decorative objects and plants in his studio, as well as his sitters’ garments, tirelessly experimenting with his favorite theme and inventing new decorative combinations and painterly solutions, and creating one of the boldest and most life-affirming bodies of work in twentieth century art.
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