Lot 15
  • 15

Henri Matisse

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  • Henri Matisse
  • signed H. Matisse (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 46 by 55cm.
  • 18 1/8 by 21 5/8 in.


Family of the artist
Heinz Berggruen, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1960)
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1961. Sale: Sotheby's, London, 27th June 2000, lot 19)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Basel, Galerie Beyeler, La Femme, 1960, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue and detail illustrated in colour on the cover 


Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse. Contre vents et marées. Peinture et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, illustrated p. 369

Catalogue Note

Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier of 1942 is a stunning composition executed at the height of Matisse's career, combining two key elements of his art: a sensuous female figure and strong, vibrant patterns. Matisse's works of the late 1930s and early 1940s are largely devoted to the subject of a female figure in an interior setting. Two women dominate in these portraits: the dark-haired Hélène Galitzine, a Russian princess who began modelling for Matisse in the mid-1930s, and Lydia Delectorskaya, also a Russian émigré. In some works these figures are painted in the nude, evoking Matisse's earlier orientalist-inspired Odalisques, in others they are shown in elaborate, heavily ornamented dresses or costumes. Although highly stylised, 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 (fig. 1).


The model in the present work is the dancer Carla Avogardo, the sister of Matisse's long-serving model Michaela. Matisse depicted Carla in a series of canvases on the same theme during the latter part of 1942 (figs. 2-4). The present work is perhaps the most assured and compelling from this group, which portrays Carla in a variety of poses - always in the same blue dress - in Matisse's studio in the hotel. Languorously reclining on an armchair and looking straight at the viewer, at once she reflects an air of abandon and self-assurance. Contrasted with the blondeness of Lydia or Hélène's raven hair that appear in other compositions from the period, Carla's bright auburn hair in this work presents a striking counterpoint. She poses in the flirtatious, exotic dress that suggests her role as a dancer, while the bold geometric patterning of the floor tiles provides a stunning background. The whole effect of Danseuse dans le fauteuil is one of the profound confidence, both in terms of Carla's own assurance of pose and in the artist's mastery of his medium and subject.


At the time he painted the present work, Matisse was living in Nice with his model and muse Lydia Delectorskaya. Matisse had moved into Hôtel Régina in Nice in October 1939, returning to the grand rooms which had become both the artist's home and studio in the south of France. Whilst there, although suffering intermittently from ill health and at times confined to bed, the artist painted some of the most life-affirming and colourful compositions. His work in the early 1940s is characterised by Alfred Barr as demonstrating a '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'.


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 Hôtel Régina. Fascinated by textile decoration and ornamentation, the artist transformed his Nice apartment with paintings, mirrors, curtains, wallpapers and decorative screens, creating a theatrical setting in which to depict his models. In the present work, the background is a boldly geometric black-and-white pattern, with a two-dimensional quality that denies the composition any sense of depth or perspective. Fascinated by patterns and ornaments, Matisse pastes his figure against this background, which is identified by the title as the floor, but can equally be seen as a wall behind the woman.


The present composition demonstrates its links to the more 'hard-edged' line and decorative boldness of colouration that had characterised Matisse's style since his work on designs for the Rockefeller fireplace decorations and for the Monte Carlo Ballet production of Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1938 and 1939 respectively. Matisse worked in this bold and decorative style from the end of the 1930s, culminating in the great series of colourful and reductive paper cut-outs of the final years of his life. The bold colours and delight in beauty abundant in the present work attest to the artist's abiding spirit and richness of vision, undimmed by the physical hardships he had been suffering.


In his depictions of Carla Avogardo, Matisse paid considerable attention to her dress, shoes and headdress, delighting in the playful pattern of her costume. Discussing Matisse's female portraits of this period, John Elderfield wrote: '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 in Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, 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 favourite 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.