Lot 22
  • 22

Henri Matisse

bidding is closed


  • Henri Matisse
  • Nu couché vu de dos
  • Signed Henri Matisse (lower right); titled Nu couché dos on the reverse

  • Oil on canvas
  • 26 by 36 ¼ in.
  • 66 by 92 cm


Estate of the artist

Jean Matisse, Pontoise

Gérard Matisse, Paris

Private Collection, Paris

Acquavella Galleries

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995



Paris, Grand Palais, Salon d’automme, 1927, no.1054

Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Henri Matisse, Exposition organisée au profit de l’Orphelinat des Arts, 1931, no. 133

Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Henri-Matisse, 1931, no. 102

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse, 1931, no. 73

Paris, Petit Palais, Les maîtres de l’art indépendent 1895-1937, 1937, no. 3

Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, Stockholm, Liljevachs Konsthall, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Laurens, 1938, no. 14(?)

London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by Picasso and Matisse, 1945, no. 8

Glasgow, Picasso-Matisse Exhibition, 1946, no. 8

Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, Exposition Picasso-Matisse, 1946, no. 8 illustrated

Lucerne, Musée des Beaux Arts, Henri Matisse, 1949, no. 86

Nice, Galerie des Ponchettes, Henri Matisse, 1950, no. 26

Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Henri Matisse, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 1948, no. 70 illustrated

Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Henri Matisse, exposition rétrospective, 1956, no. 75

Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Exposition Henri Matisse, 1961, no. 9

Los Angeles, UCLA Art Galleries, Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Henri Matisse, 1966, no. 64, illustrated color p. 96

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse 64 Paintings, 1966, p. no. 48, illustrated p. 47

London, The Hayward Gallery, Matisse, 1968, no. 96, illustrated p. 124

Rome, Villa Medici, Henri Matisse, 1978, no. 18

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art,  Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, 1987, no. 154

Venice, Museo Correr, Henri Matisse- Matisse et I’Italie, 1987, no. P43, p. 208


Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Matisse: Mastery of Light and Pattern, Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, 1987, no. 154, p. 326



G. J. Gros, “Henri Matisse,” Cahiers d’art, 1927, illustrated p.268-274

Florent Fels, Henri-Matisse, Paris, 1929, illustrated pl. 32

Pierre Courthion, Henri-Matisse, Paris, 1934, illustrated pl. LIII

R. Kawashima, Matisse, Tokyo, 1936, illustrated pl. 19

Jean Cassou, Paintings and Drawings of Matisse, Paris and New York, 1939, illustrated pl. 14

Mushakojo, Henri-Matisse 1890-1939, Tokyo, 1939, no.199, illustrated p. 98

Thomas B. Hess, “Matisse: A Life of Color,” Art News, April 1948, p. 18

Gaston Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, illustrated pl. 98

Giuseppe Marchiori, Matisse, Paris, 1967, illustrated p. 75

Alan Bowness, Matisse et le nu, Paris, 1968, illustrated pl. 24

Louis Aragon, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1971, no. LXXIV, illustrated p.110

Mario Luzi and Massimo Carrà, L’opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta fauve all’intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 456, illustrated

Nicholas Watkins, Matisse, Oxford, 1977, illustrated pl. 35

Jacques Lassaigne, A l’école des grands peintres, Matisse, Paris, 1981, illustrated

Pierre Schneider, Massimo Carrà and Xavier Derying, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Matisse 1904-1928, Paris, 1982, no. 456, illustrated

Nicholas Watkins, Matisse, Oxford, 1984, illustrated pl. 147

Giles Neret, Matisse, Paris, 1991, no. 202, illustrated


Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, no. 677, illustrated p. 1277


Yve-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso, Fort Worth, 1998, no. 18, illustrated p. 34


Catalogue Note

Nu couché de dos is one of Matisse's most sumptuous oils of an odalisque, reclining in a position that best exploits the inviting curves of her flesh.   Painted while the artist was living in Nice and during what is considered his most accomplished period as a colorist, the composition presents a medley of Matisse's greatest achievements as a painter and draftsman.  The artist himself once made the following remarks with regard to the subject that arguably dominates his oeuvre: “The odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely, vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate.  I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and color” (Henri Matisse, quoted in Jack Flam (ed.), Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 230).

The figure of the odalisque was one that had long been celebrated in the history of art, most famously in the 19th century by painters such as Delacroix and Gêrome.  Matisse applied a highly personal approach to his interpretation of this subject, surrounding the figure with the rich textiles and personal affects of his studio. Writing about this series of Odalisques, Elizabeth Cowling commented: “In painting his make-believe harem scenes – nothing could be less authentic than the heteroclite mix of fabrics, costumes, furniture and bric-a-brac – Matisse sought to personalize and modernize the hackneyed Orientalist subjects which has first come into vogue during the Romantic period.  Delacroix’s sumptuous Women of Algiers was of paramount importance to this enterprise and in the sum total of the Nice odalisque paintings numerous echoes of it can be heard…” (Elizabeth Cowling, Matisse Picasso, Tate Modern, London, 2002, p. 221).


This picture dates from the summer of 1927 and is one of a series of  compositions in which Matisse depicts his model against a decorative screen and next to a rococo table and metal samovar (see fig. 1).  In the present composition, the figure's curvaceous limbs and the bend of her spine echo the patterning of the drapery and the lines of the objects that surround her.   Her skin is inflected with multi-colored shadows and highlights, and her restless body, with a foot that appears to be shifting at the edge of the canvas, is framed by rich tones of green and magenta.     To enhance these sensations evoked by his model's warm flesh, Matisse turns up the temperature by including a hazy, bronze samovar, which we can imagine is filled and bubbling with hot tea.   The composition as a whole brilliantly recreates the intoxicating atmosphere of the harem which Matisse recreated within the confines of his studio.   Discussing these paintings, Jack Cowart has written that, "these striking paintings are the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration and the odalisque placed in his 'brewing tension.'  He surely enjoyed the deceptive game he played with this conflict between reality, appearance, and art, and dreaming and waking.  These paintings are fantasies in the best sense of the word, but for the sake of denying such an accusation, he said: 'I do odalisques in order to paint nudes.  But how does one paint nudes without their being artificial?  Because I know that odalisques exist, I was in Morocco.  I have seen some'" (Jack Coward, Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-87, p. 37).

Matisse's model for the present picture was probably Henriette Darricarrère, who had worked with the artist throughout his Nice period.    Although Matisse considered her his primary source of inspiration, Henriette would stop modeling for him at the end of 1927 due to her failing health.  The present work, created the summer before her retirement, was probably one of the last major oils in which she posed for him in the nude.  In her recent biography of the artist, Hilary Spurling provided a wonderful description of what Matisse saw in his model, and Spurling's description can be aptly applied to the present composition:  "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" (Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005,  p. 270).

In the present picture, Matisse's explicit concentration is on his model's back, an attribute that is often considered to be the most expressive part of the body (see fig. 2).  Throughout the history of western art, the best academic and avant-garde painters occasionally dedicated their compositions to depicting the elegant curves of back and relished in the seductive exercise of tracing the long line of the spine (see figs. 3 & 4).   But for Matisse, this part of the body presented the greatest formal challenges.  Matisse's first major exploration of the back was in the medium of sculpture, in a series of bas-reliefs that occupied him into the 1930s (see fig. 5).   Matisse himself once said, "Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement.  The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive:  the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share" (Henri Matisse, Figure, Color, Space (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2006, p. 283).

In a recent exhibition of the artist's work, Gottfried Boehm discussed Matisse's obsession with the back in his paintings and drawings.  Writing about a drawing in which Matisse depicts his model from behind (see fig. 6), Boehm offers the following observations on the artist's ability to focus the gaze of his audience and enchant them with the beauty of his images:  "Following the contours of the recumbent body, we soon become entangled in precisely those spatial conflicts that propel us beyond the perimeters of the [picture] itself and into a much larger, imaginary space.  Yet this redirecting of the beholder's gaze presupposes a refusal to fix the attention on any one spot.  Those who do try to do just this, for example by focusing on the patterns of the tapis africain or the floor tiles, are immediately swept along by the logic of the repeated pattern" (Gottfried Boehm, ibid., p. 287).





Fig. 1, Henri Matisse Drawing the model Wilma Javor reclining on a sofa, Villa Alésia, Paris, 1939, Archives Matisse

Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Odalisque à la ceinture verte, 1926-27, oil on canvas, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection, Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland

Fig. 3, Diego Velázquez, La Venus del espejo, 1648, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London

Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892, oil on burlap mounted on canvas, Albright Knox-Art Gallery, Buffalo

Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Nu de dos IV, 1930, bronze, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Fig. 6, Henri Matisse, Nu allongé sur le ventre petit tapis africain, 1935, pen and India ink on paper, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris