- Henri Matisse
- Signed Henri Matisse (lower right)
- Oil on canvas
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist on May 6, 1910)
Isaac de Camondo (acquired from the above on June 11, 1910)
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the above on April 17, 1916)
Galerie Vildrac (acquired from the above on May 30, 1916)
Jacques Doucet, Paris
César de Haucke, Paris
Yvonne Guillou, Paris (acquired as a gift from the above)
Paul Brame, Paris (1971)
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zürich (1971)
Acquired from the above by the late owner in 1971
Walter Feilchenfeldt, 25 Jahre Feilchenfeldt in Zürich 1948-1973, Zürich, 1973, illustrated in color pl. 22
Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Matisse, vol. I, Paris, 1995, no. 97, illustrated p. 469
Looking at this tranquil subject and the resonant palette of purple, green and pink, it is fascinating to consider that this composition dates from one of the most inventive and turbulent periods of Matisse's career. Indeed, this lush depiction of a potted geranium was a truly avant-garde picture when Matisse painted it in 1910. During this period, Matisse's bold use of color and loose brushwork - remnants of Fauvism - were taken to new extremes in sharp contrast to the monochrome tonality preferred by the Cubists. Critics in Paris were stunned by his work, with one evening claiming at the end of 1910, "Matisse has done more harm in a year than an epidemic! Matisse causes insanity!" Even his fellow artists, egged on by their ringleader Picasso, actively snubbed him in public. "If my story were to ever be told in full....", the artist would recall thirty years later, "it would amaze everyone who reads it." (quoted in Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master, New York, 2005, pp. 34-35).
An erudite group of collectors, though, recognized the brilliance behind the artist's vibrant pictures and encouraged him to carry on with his unique aesthetic. In the midst of his unpopularity in Paris, the American ex-patriots Michael and Sarah Stein became Matisse's greatest champions, promoting his work to their friends in the United States and abroad. Thanks to them, he was able to organize exhibitions in Berlin, Budapest and Florence, greatly increasing his international appeal. Matisse also received considerable support from Sergei Shchukin, whose commission Music and Dance kept him occupied throughout the summer (see fig. 1). More encouragement came from Baron Hugo von Tschudi, the director of the Neue Staatsgalerie in Munich, who commissioned the Still-life with Geraniums (now in the collection of the Staatsgalerie, Munich, see fig. 2), a picture which is directly related to the present composition and Nature morte (Espagne), another of Shchukin's commissions (see fig. 3).
These pictures that Matisse completed amidst the rampant criticism of 1910 became some of the most beloved works of that early period of the 20th century. Along with Music and Dance, Matisse's colorful still-lifes were singled out that year as some of his best productions. In a review of his painting in 1911 on the occassion of yet another Bernheim-Jeune exhibition, Jacques Rivière praised these new pictures: "Matisse's color shines with an intellectual splendor. It has the mute force of ideals that spring suddenly and dazzlingly to mind....The still lifes are the best of these paintings, for indeed their subject is already abstract; the objects are chosen and grouped in accordance with their pcitorial importance; their arbitrary charcater is attenuated by this prior adaptation of the model to its future image. Moreover, since Matisse has prepared the still lifes to his taste, he allows his sense a more confident expression; he transcribes them more exactly; he is won over by the sensual pleasure that objects harbor; his color becomes more muted, more weightly, more swollens with matter" (Jacques Rivière, "An Exhibition of Henri Matisse", 1911, reprinted in Jack Flam, Matisse, A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 122).