Adolphe Lewisohn, New York (by 1931)
Samuel A. Lewisohn, New York (by descent from the above)
Private Collection, New York
Stephen Hahn, New York
Private Collection (acquired from the above on January 17, 1980)
Private Collection, New York
Private Collection, Connecticut
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Henri Matisse, 1931, no. 113 (as dating from 1924)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Lewisohn Collection, 1951, no. 51 (as dating from 1924)
Albert C. Barnes and Violette de Mazia, The Art of Henri Matisse, Pennsylvania, 1933, no. 151, catalogued p. 444
Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Henri Matisse: Chez Bernheim-Jeune, vol. 2, Paris, 1995, no. 364, illustrated p. 839
Matisse painted this charming composition while at his studio in the south of France in 1920. The nude model posing in a chair was a popular subject during this period, and his focus on the supple curves of her body is beautifully executed in the present work. Many of Matisse's early Nice pictures are, as John Elderfield has described them, "harmonious, light-filled, and often profusely decorated interiors, with languorous and seductive models, that sacrificed the interest of the avant-garde, an interest he regained only slowly in later years. Matisse rejoiced in the light of Nice; color was subordinated to it. Thus, the flat, arbitrary colors of his preceding paintings, both 'decorative' and 'experimental,' were replaced by a much broader range of soft tonalities that convey how reflected light will suffuse an interior, associating whoever or whatever is within it. Light is almost palpable in these paintings. Their sensuality and the quality of meditation they afford both depend on the gentle pulsation of light through them. Often, the pulsation of pattern will form an accompaniment" (John Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, p. 289).
After a visit to England, Matisse returned to Nice in late 1920 and found himself in need of a new model. The sitter in the present work is most likely the sister of Antoinette Arnoud, the woman who posed for Matisse during the previous two years. As with Nu au peigne espagnol, assis devant une fenêtre à voilages from the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Matisse has focused intently on the model while her surroundings become a backdrop. According to Jack Cowart, Matisse "...posed this woman in various ways: with her hair held by a tall Spanish comb, wearing tasseled shawls, an ample striped robe, in a ruffled blouse, or nude, draped simply with a celery-colored cloth. These works mark Matisse's growing commitment to the theme of the model posed against a room interior or window-landscape view" (Jack Cowart, "The Place of Silvered Light: An Expanded, Illustrated Chronology of Matisse in the South of France, 1916-1932," Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1932 (exhibition catalogue), Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1987, p. 25)
The present work once belonged to Adolphe and Samuel Lewisohn, the father and son of a New York-based banking family. Adolphe had started collecting the works of Monet and Renoir in the 1880s, and later discovered Cézanne, Gauguin and Manet. One of the first works by Matisse that he acquired was Lorette en blouse blanche, followed by several other works by the artist including the present painting. It is not clear, however, whether Adolphe or his son Samuel instigated the acquisition of Matisse's oils. Samuel began collecting around the time of the 1913 Armory show, and his tastes were more modern than those of his father. By 1917, both men were living at 88th Street and 5th Avenue, where they hung their paintings in a large, skylit gallery on the top floor. Later on, Samuel would be a driving force behind the founding of the Museum of Modern Art in 1929, and his involvement with the museum resulted his coming into contact with several important artist of the era. "I admit that I am one of those who experience keen pleasure in the presence of the work of art which relies for its appeal purely on esthetic principles," Samuel once admitted. "Plastic art is in some respect is a sort of visual gymnastics. This is particularly true of modern paintings. Probably what makes modern painting so exicting to many of us in the element of suprise that is gives to the eye....a picture should be bought for one's personal refreshment for the same reason that one goes to a concert" (quoted in Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-87, p. 256). Therein lies the reasoning behind the Lewisohn's possession of this exquisite picture.
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