- Henri Matisse
- Mlle. Matisse en manteau écossais
- Signed Henri Matisse (lower left)
- Oil on canvas
Walter Taylor, London (acquired by 1919 and sold: Christie's, London, March 3, 1939, lot 156)
Captain Stanley William Sykes, Cambridge
Henry T. Mudd, Los Angeles
M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Henry Ford II (acquired from the above, February 6, 1960)
Acquired from the above by A. Alfred Taubman on December 23, 1986
London, Knoedler & Co., Second Loan Exhibition, 1928, no. 57
London, The Mayor Gallery, Mr. Walter Taylor's Collection, 1936, no. 26
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 1944-1955 (on loan)
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, 1986-87, no. 33, illustrated in color in the catalogue
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, 1992-93, no. 222, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Matisse, 1917-1941, 2009, no. 6, illustrated in color in the catalogue
Paris, Le Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Matisse Paires et series, 2012, illustrated in color in the catalogue
T. W. Earp, "Modern French Painting at the Tate Gallery," Apollo, no. 4, 1926, p. 65
Rosamond Bernier, Matisse, Picasso, Miró As I Knew Them, New York, 1991, illustrated in color p. 16
Rosamond Bernier, Saber Ver - Lo Contemporáneo del Arte, Mexico City, 1995, illustrated in color p. 30 (titled Matisse en persona)
Marguerite Matisse, 23 years old, paying a flying visit to the seaside, celebrates the spring of 1918 by dressing up for her father in a chic new outfit made by her friend, the Parisian couturière Germaine Bongard, and a flower-trimmed felt hat designed for her by another friend. It was the week after Easter, and bitterly cold. Matisse posed her in a patch of sunlight on his balcony above the bay of Nice, capturing the gaiety and frivolity of her black-and-white French tweeds as well as the youthful freshness of the sitter in the radiant pale colours of his light-filled canvas.
On Good Friday, 29 March 1918, the German army had mounted a savage onslaught on Paris, where the Matisses’ house at Issy lay directly in the path of invading troops. At this stage of the war no one knew for sure that the Germans would eventually lose, or even that the fighting was now entering its final phase. Marguerite’s brother Jean was a conscript soldier in barracks just outside Nice, eagerly awaiting his first taste of active service on the Flanders front, where young subalterns rarely survived more than a few weeks. Matisse had come south to find his son, and stayed on so as to be close enough to say goodbye when the posting came. His younger son Pierre, aged 17, was already counting the days until his next birthday when he, too, could join the army. By 1918 Marguerite herself, who had undergone successive tracheotomies in childhood and adolescence, owed her own increasingly precarious survival to surgical cauterisation at regular monthly intervals, a treatment almost impossible to guarantee in wartime conditions.
In the past four years Matisse had made an intermittent series of austere and sombre stripped-down portraits, starting in the summer of 1914 with another girl, Yvonne Landsberg, a painting that began as a humorous, highly lifelike sketch and ended with the columnar upright of the central figure encircled by energetic brushmarks, great whirling arcs of white paint that if anything intensify the young sitter’s slightness and fragility. He followed it that autumn with Tête blanche et rose, a not entirely successful cubist portrait of Marguerite herself in a striped blazer, wearing round her neck the velvet ribbon that concealed her damaged windpipe. Prompted perhaps by this horizontal neckband, the verticals of the jacket project a grille of black bars that seem to imprison the sitter’s head. In later portraits of other girls – Greta Prozor, Germaine Raynal, the model known as the Italian Woman – the humanity of the model is boths encroached on and enhanced by the formal demands of abstraction.
Mlle Matisse en manteau écossais strikes a new balance between colour, form and feeling. The muted orangey pinks of the sitter’s lips and skin, the flower in her hat, the chair-arms and the cushion at her back add warmth and depth to what is essentially a simple, geometric composition of black and white lines in a rectangular arrangement echoed in larger oblongs by the grey balcony railing framing the grey-blue sea. There is a sense of something fragile and infinitely precious in the delicacy of the sitter’s face and fingers, the jaunty angle of her hat, the protective enveloping expanse of her couture coat. This lightly painted, even sketchy snapshot of a canvas was one of a group that turned out to be almost the last portraits Matisse ever painted of his daughter, who had been from childhood both a favourite model and his severest critic. He hung one of them above his bed but, after 1918, she rarely posed for him again.
In the course of the last two decades he had repeatedly brought painting to the brink of abstraction. Now he set himself to solve entirely different problems, working with girls from the professional model pool in Nice, who supplied the human contact he needed in the harsh, gruelling and uncertain transitional phase that would culminate only after another twenty years and more in the liberated form and colour of his final unprecedented cut-paper compositions. Models like Antoinette Arnoud or Henriette Darricarrère were essential to him in a strictly professional capacity. The relationship became in each case a longterm collaboration free from the active, insistent questioning to which Marguerite had subjected her father on canvas ever since she was a child of six or seven years old.
Now it was as if his decreasing need for abstraction lessened her hold on him. Like most of Matisse’s admirers in the rigorous middle phase of his career, Marguerite remained almost wholly out of sympathy with the luminous exploratory colour that currently preoccupied him to the exclusion of all else. The mutual interrogation between father and daughter, so marked in Mlle Matisse en manteau écossais, signalled both an end and a beginning. From now on Matisse would make his way alone through new and unknown territory.
Hilary Spurling, CBE, FRSL, is the author of The Unknown Matisse: Volume 1 - A Life of Henri Matisse 1869-1908 and Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909-1954, for which she won the Whitbread Prize in January 2006.