- Henri Matisse
- Paysage à Maintenon
- signed Henri Matisse (lower right)
- oil on canvasboard
- 33 by 41cm., 13 by 16 1/8 in.
Acquired from the above by the grandfather of the previous owner on 26th October 1928
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Indeed, the modernist obsessions of too many writers on Matisse have created an inexcusable gap in the chronological appreciation of his œuvre. This gap is the initial years Matisse spent in Nice, from 1916 to 1930. To treat a master like Matisse with the reverence he is due. It is imperative to try and understand his reasoning, his formalisation, his figuration of these years, and not to impose upon them - for the convenience of a progressive modernism - our own interpretation. Only one exhibition has ever covered this period in its entirety; Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930, National Gallery of Art Washington, 1986, jointly curated by Jack Cowart and Dominique Fourcade. Their words are still the greatest defence of this niçoise interlude, and it is to Fourcade we should turn, as he describes the initial years which the present work was painted:
‘Here, in the first stages of the period in Nice, Matisse carries out a deliberate shift, a difficult passage of trial and error toward a painting in which reference to the real is more directly readable. It is nevertheless essential to note that he is not painting the “real” as he might have done until 1904; in 1917, Matisse does not unaccountably regress to a prefauvist manner of painting; on the contrary, he instinctively and subtly displaces the given elements of his painting (without preconceived notions and without mixing them up). There is, then, mutation, but not return: Matisse explores a new mode of transfiguration because he feels the need, pushed by his anguish as creator, not because of a loss of creative energy’ (D. Fourcade, ‘An Uninterrupted Story’, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1986, p. 48).
This spirit is clearly at play in the present landscape, dashed blacks and earthen colours that show their awareness of Cézanne, whilst never displaying a total reversion to an earlier style. Flat surfaces are juxtaposed against the overall depth of the composition – recessing into an ever blacker unknown. As Pierre Schneider observed, ‘The difficulty was that a return to realistic representation was at once necessary and impossible. Unless – and this was the solution Matisse was looking for - the abstract image could be made to look like a realistic representation…Matisse was no longer satisfied with merely combining the two-and three-dimensional systems: he now wanted two-dimensional space to create effects which had so far been produced by three-dimensional space. It was no longer a question of skilfully combining realism with abstraction, but of getting abstraction to simulate realism’ (P. Schneider, op. cit., p. 508).