- Henri Matisse
ROBE JAUNE ET ROBE ARLEQUIN (NEZY ET LYDIA)
Signed and dated Henri Matisse 40 (lower left)
Oil and pencil on canvas
Carstairs Gallery, New York
William Beadleston Gallery, New York
Mrs. H. Harris Jones, New York
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, London, June 28, 1999, lot 36)
Acquired at the above sale
George Besson, Matisse, Paris, 1945, fig. 56, illustrated
Gaston Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, p. 130, illustrated (with the title Robes jaune citron et ecossaise and the incorrect measurements 116 by 89cm.)
Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse, Contre vents et marées, Peintures et livres illustres de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, pp. 235 & 241, no. 32, illustrated in colour (with the date 1941)
Matisse’s sensuous Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia) depicts two of his favorite models: Lydia Delectoriskaya (see fig. 1) and Nezy Hamid Chawat (see fig. 2). These two women – one a flaxen-haired Russian, the other a smoldering-eyed Mediterranean – personified the types of beauty that most captivated Matisse while he was living in the south of France. While not much biographical information is available about the sultry Nezy, Lydia wrote her memoirs and her relationship with the artist is well known. Beginning in 1935 this pre-Raphaelite beauty was a constant presence in the artist’s life, both posing for and assisting Matisse in his studio. As undeniably seductive in the flesh as she was in his art, Lydia was the veritable superstar of Matisse’s late compositions. Both she and Nezy appear in many of Matisse’s paintings of the 1930s and 1940s wearing vibrantly colored clothing – a wardrobe choice that engaged the painter’s fascination with ornately patterned fabric.
In October 1939, Matisse and Lydia Delectorskaya went to Nice, returning to the grand rooms at the Hotel Regina which had become both the artist’s home and studio in the south of France. While there he painted a series of celebrated works depicting female figures in interior settings, and the present composition demonstrates its links to the ‘hard-edged’ line and decorative boldness of coloration that had characterized Matisse’s style since his work on designs for the Rockefeller fireplace decorations (1939) and the Monte Carlo Ballet production of Le rouge et le noir (1939). Matisse worked in this bold and decorative aesthetic in several two-figure compositions, such as Robe noir et robe violette of 1938 (fig. 3), a painting that anticipates the stylization of the present work.
Having largely turned his back on the outside world, after late 1939 Matisse concentrated almost exclusively on capturing in his painting the interior of his rooms in the Hotel Regina. Like a musician composing variations on a given theme, Matisse constantly rearranged the pieces of furniture, decorative objects and plants in his rooms, frequently enlivened by the presence of models. Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia) can be compared to Deux personnages et le chien of 1937 for, although the latter was painted before the artist’s return to Nice, it shares with the present work the same combination of a yellow-clad figure and another in a boldly patterned dress and the same, predominantly green and brown tonalities in the background.
The juxtaposition in Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia) of Lydia with her rich, red-blond hair and the more familiar dark-haired Mediterranean type normally favored by Matisse, embodied by the model Nezy Hamid Chawat, sets up a powerful dynamic in this work. This combination of contrasting elements creates a rhyme with the juxtaposition of the dresses, which – given the prominence that they are accorded in the title of the painting- seem ultimately to differentiate the two models, Nezy’s yellow dress mirroring Lydia’s blond hair and Lydia’s darker dress reflecting her companion’s black hair. Matisse’s coloristic intensity and joie de vivre during this period belies the suffering he was experiencing form his illness. The bold colors and delight in beauty abundant in the present work attest to the artist's abiding spirit and generosity of vision, despite the hardships he had been suffering, and are overwhelming evidence of the apotheosis of color and form he had reached at the time.
Athough the artist dated this work 40, Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed that the artist painted this work in 1941, the same year as Robe jaune et robe écossaise (see fig. 4). However, the style of this picture relates to compositions that Matisse completed the year before. Describing a painting from 1940 – Ananas et Anemones – Alfred H. Barr refers to the ‘undifferentiated’ texture of the objects evident in the works from that period: "…there is luminosity but almost no sense of directional light; the forms are practically unmodelled… It is a demonstration of complete synthesis after fifty years of study and ceaseless research in which academic, impressionist, quasi-primitive, arbitrarily abstract and comparatively realistic styles were all put to the test." These words pertain equally to Robe jaune et robe arlequin (Nezy et Lydia), a beautifully balanced and wonderfully rich work from the height of Mastisse’s powers as an artist.
Figure 1 Lydia Delectorskaya in the "robe arlequin" in the artist's studio
Figure 2 Henri Matisse drawing Nezy Hamid Chawat, 1942
Figure 3 Henri Matisse, Robe noir and robe violette 1938, oil on canvas, Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Figure 4 Henri Matisse, Robe jaune et robe écossaise, 1941, oil on canvas, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou