Galerie Pierre Colle, Paris (acquired from the above)
Jean-Auguste Terrin, Marseille (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 2nd April 1979, lot 53)
J.P.L. Fine Arts, London (purchased at the above sale)
Private Collection, U.S.A.
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above. Sold: Christie’s, London, 22nd June 2004, lot 26)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Marseille, Musée Cantini, Gustave Moreau et ses élèves, 1962, no. 83, illustrated in the catalogue (with incorrect provenance)
Pierre Sanchez, Dictionnaire du Salon d'Automne, repertoire des exposants et liste des œuvres presentées 1903-1945, Paris, 1951, vol. II, listed p. 951 (titled Jeune fille turque, écharpe blanche et bleue and with incorrect dimensions)
Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse. Contre vents et marées. Peintures et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, illustrated p. 297 (titled Nézy dans le fauteuil noir)
The outbreak of war in 1939 had compounded the already mounting problems in Matisse’s life. His marriage to Amélie was finally at an end after years of estrangement, and the presence of Lydia strained his relationships with other members of his family and friends. The spectre of German invasion forced Matisse and Lydia out of Paris and into a period of artistic limbo. He was also beset by a slew of health problems. However, by May he was safely ensconced in his studios back at the Hôtel Régina, and was determined to paint. Amidst the exotic splendours of tropical plants, cacti and the incessant stream of bird-song issuing from his aviary, Matisse executed a series of brilliantly coloured paintings and sensuous drawings of women and still-lifes which were to be his final great accomplishments before he devoted himself to the cut-outs. Alfred Barr described his early 1940s work 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' (A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 237).
As he wrote to his friend, the painter Albert Marquet in 1942: ‘My terrible operation has completely rejuvenated and made a philosopher of me. I had so completely prepared for my exit from life, that it seems to me that I am in a second life’ (quoted in Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, (exhibition catalogue), St. Louis Art Museum, 1977, p. 43). Indeed it was this chance at a second life which spurred him on to paint with such determination amidst such difficult circumstances. Matisse admitted to Gotthard Jedlicka: ‘What I did before this illness, before this operation, always has the feeling of too much effort; before this, I always lived with my belt tightened. What I created afterwards represents me myself: free and detached’ (quoted in ibid., p. 43).
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). As well as paying a great attention to his sitters' garments Matisse constantly rearranged the pieces of furniture, decorative objects and plants in his studio, tirelessly experimenting with his favourite theme and inventing new decorative combinations and painterly solutions.
Throughout his life, Matisse approached clothing and textiles with the keen eye of a collector. Costumes of all descriptions could be found in numerous chests about his house and studio. From Romanian peasant clothing to ball gowns, Matisse’s appetite for clothing was enormous. He commissioned the celebrated designer Paul Poiret’s sister to make dresses for his wife and daughter, and on one occasion in 1938, he spent a day in the area around the rue de la Boëtie in Paris buying several items of haute couture at the spring sales. By the time he moved to his new apartment in the old Hotel Régina in Cimiez in 1939, his collection of costumes required a whole room to store them. Describing Matisse’s passion for exotic dress, Hilary Spurling has noted: ‘Moroccan jackets, robes, blouses, boleros, caps and scarves, from which his models could be kitted out in outfits distantly descended - like Bakst's ballet, and a whole series of films using Nice locations in the 1920s as a substitute for the mysterious East - from the French painterly tradition of orientalisation’ (H. Spurling, Matisse: His Art and his Textiles (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 29).
Through Matisse and his great rival Picasso, Orientalist themes - once so popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century - underwent a great revival and modernisation. Matisse had initially started to explore Orientalism in the 1920s in Nice (fig. 1), transforming the exotic odalisque into one of the most recognisable emblems of eroticism in Modern art. His extravagantly dressed models indicated his interest in fabric and embroidery as much as his desire to create images evocative of the Orient. Picasso’s own engagement with the subject would happen later in the mid-1950s (fig. 2), and his work was as much influenced by Delacroix and Ingres as by the recently deceased Matisse. Françoise Gilot, writing in 1964 about Picasso’s Orientalist paintings, commented on Matisse’s own work: '[Matisse] has always been a frequent visitor to the Louvre, where he had copied the masters during his early years of soul searching... He went back to the large galleries where Delacroix's major works were displayed [including] Les femmes d'Alger... Matisse studied Delacroix's achievements, from the rhythmical arabesques of his compositions to his bold colour contrasts, with passion' (F. Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 169).
In a letter to André Rouveyre on 17th January 1942, Matisse wrote about Odalisque au fauteuil noir: 'I have also begun an important canvas of ma petite princesse de rêve'. This term of endearment referred to Nézy (fig. 4), the sitter in the present work. Nézy-Hamidé Chawkat was the great granddaughter of the last Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid, who went to live in Nice with her grandmother after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic. The Princess Nézy, as she was known, was spotted in the street by Matisse in 1940 and, as Hilary Spurling recounts: ‘[Matisse] asked if he might paint her, requesting formal permission from her grandmother like a suitor applying for her hand’ (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, London, 2005, p. 410). Nézy would attend Matisse’s sittings accompanied by a chaperone and was for nearly two years his favourite model. Her striking dark looks contrasted with those of the blonde Lydia, and together they provided the essential harmony behind works such as Deux jeune filles, robe jaune, robe écossaise (fig. 3).
Nézy was also the model for a vast outpouring of drawings now known as ‘Themes and Variations’, some of which captured her personality wonderfully and others which bore fewer of her own characteristics and more of Matisse’s increasingly abstract ideals (fig. 5). Discussing the pictures Nézy sat for, with particular reference to the celebrated Le Rêve (fig. 6), Spurling writes: ‘The princess herself (who reminded Matisse of the attendant on the right in Ingrès’ Turkish Bath [fig. 7]) emerges from his drawings as a natural flirt, languorous, pert and seductive, with delicate Oriental features and a cloud of wavy dark hair, wearing a rose or a twisted rope of silk scarves or a smart spotted veil. There was something subtle, indefinable, even ethereal about Nézy, and Matisse captured it in Le Rêve’ (ibid., p. 411). Her time in Matisse’s studio came to an end when she left Nice in the summer of 1942 to get married, and her role as his prime model was temporarily taken by her friends Carla Avogardo and Simone Vincent.
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