Lot 13
  • 13

Henri Matisse

1,300,000 - 1,600,000 GBP
2,105,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Henri Matisse
  • Femme à l'ombrelle
  • signed Henri Matisse (lower left); signed Henri Matisse and dedicated à M et Mme Abel Desjardins, souvenir affectueux, Dec. 1919 on the reverse
  • oil on canvasboard
  • 23.7 by 19cm.
  • 9 1/4 by 7 1/2 in.


M & Mme Abel Desjardins, Paris (a gift from the artist in December 1919)

Philippe Fontaine, Paris

Pierre Berès, Paris (acquired from the above in 1950. Sold: Sotheby’s London, 30th November 1993, lot 14)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, 1986-87, no. 51, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Femme au balcon à l’ombrelle rose, de face, mi-corps)


Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Henri Matisse chez Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1995, vol. II, no. 449, illustrated p. 969 (as dating from 1921)

Catalogue Note

Between 1917 and 1932, Matisse made annual expeditions to the South of France and the influence of this environment inspired some important innovations in his artistic practice. During a 1943 interview with the French poet Louis Aragon, Matisse expounded on his attachment to the region: ‘Nice, why Nice? In my work, I have tried to create a translucent setting for the mind. I have found the necessary limpidity in several places around the world: New York, the South Pacific, and Nice... The painters over in New York say, How can anyone paint here, with this zinc-coloured sky? But in fact it's wonderful! Everything becomes clear, translucent, exact, limpid. Nice, in this sense, has helped me’ (quoted in Jack Flam (ed.), Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, pp. 166-167).

Many of the works he produced during this time, and particularly his early Nice pictures, are a celebration of the light and colour he found there and of the sumptuous environs of his daily life in the Midi. ‘Matisse rejoiced in the light of Nice,’ according to John Elderfield, ‘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’ (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, p. 289).

Painted in 1919, Femme à l'ombrelle is a product of that rich artistic vocabulary, portraying his model seated in front of an open window in his Mediterranean studio. The model posing in a chair was a popular subject during this period, and the supple curves of her body and the rich, textural contrasts of her clothing are beautifully executed in the present work. Indeed, Matisse makes his model, the young Antoinette Arnoud, the focus of this lively and unusually direct composition. She is depicted close-up, filling the pictorial field as she reclines against the chair that is loosely sketched in the background. She assumes a rather flirtatious pose, with her rose coloured parasol held at a jaunty angle and Matisse achieves a heightened sense of immediacy through his use of a broad diagonal set against the green vertical of the shuttered French door which frames the composition. This concentration on his model, and the attention that Matisse pays in rendering the elegant florals of her dress, anticipate some of his later portraits of fashionable women (fig. 3) and illustrate his skill in harmonising bold colour planes with decorative patterns.

Discussing his painting of this period Matisse acknowledged the importance of his models, writing: ‘My models, human figures, are never just 'extras' in an interior. They are the principal theme in my work. I depend entirely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature. When I take a new model, I intuit the pose that will best suit her from her un-self-conscious attitudes of repose, and then I become the slave of that pose. I often keep those girls several years, until my interest is exhausted. My plastic signs probably express their souls (a word I dislike), which interests me subconsciously, or what else is there? Their forms are not always perfect, but they are expressive. The emotional interest aroused in me by them does not appear particularly in the representation of their bodies, but often rather in the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper, which form its complete orchestration, its architecture. But not everyone perceives this. It is perhaps sublimated sensual pleasure, which may not yet be perceived by everyone’ (quoted in Ernst Gerhard Güse, Henri Matisse, Drawings and Sculpture, Munich, 1991, p. 22).

In Femme à l'ombrelle Matisse creates a lively effect through his careful orchestration of the composition. The parallel placement of the two broad diagonal lines – the sandy promenade bordering the sea and the grey banister of the balustrade – has a dynamic effect. As with many of the paintings executed at the Hôtel Méditerranée, the resulting shortened or tilted perspective enhances the view from the balcony beyond its literal dimension (fig. 2). The brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea and the thronging figures on the beach give a wonderful impression of the colour and clamour of this popular resort. Matisse juxtaposes this with the stillness of his model and the softer light that falls through the shade of her parasol in a painting that exemplifies the achievements of his years at the Hôtel Méditerranée.