Jacques Lindon, Inc., New York
Enrico Donati, New York (acquired from the above circa 1953)
Louis Aragon, Henri Matisse: a novel, London, 1972, fig. 132, detail illustrated in a photograph of Matisse's studio
Marie-France Boyer & Hélène Adant, Matisse at Villa Le Rêve, 1943-1948, London, 2004, detail illustrated in a photograph of Matisse's studio, pp. 114-115
‘All his collections of chairs and tables were set out in an oriental half-light, all his familiar objects, vases brimming over with flowers gathered into delightfully untidy bunches.’ Marie-France Boyer, Matisse at Villa Le Rêve, 1943-1948, London, 2004, p. 18
Vase d’anémones of 1946 is a stunning and vibrant example of Matisse’s last flourishing as a painter, before he eventually traded the brush and easel for a pair of scissors and spent the remainder of his life working primarily on paper cut-outs and decorative projects, most notably for the Rosary Chapel in Vence. As one of his final works on canvas, Vase d’anémones demonstrates Matisse’s painterly technique at its full maturity and reflects the sheer joy with which he depicted his immediate environment – the interior of his studio and the lively flowers that were always present in abundance.
In 1943, while the war still raged, Nice came under threat of bombardment. Seeking refuge, in June that year Matisse moved to the splendid Villa Le Rêve on the outskirts of the Provençal town of Vence. While his wife and daughter stayed in Paris, Matisse lived and worked in Vence until 1948, with his model and studio assistant Lydia Delectorskaya. Just as in the 1920s the artist transformed his Nice studio with colourful fabrics that adorned the walls, his studio in Vence was covered in vibrant art works – both paper cut-outs and canvases – as well as in plants and tapestries. The splendour of Matisse’s Vence studio was documented by the photographer Hélène Adant, Lydia’s cousin. Adant often visited Matisse and Lydia, and her photographs ‘reveal to us a sense of intimacy, and the sensual, poetic atmosphere Matisse could weave around himself (Marie-France Boyer, Matisse at Villa Le Rêve, 1943-1948, London, 2004, p. 12). In several photographs, she captured Vase d’anémones hanging on the wall (fig. 3), as well as its central motif – the colourful vase with a floral pattern – arranged on a small table with flowers and pieces of fruit (fig. 6).
Surrounded by an opulent garden dominated by large palm trees, Villa Le Rêve provided a marvellous setting for the artist. Once he moved into the villa, ‘Matisse arranged for the array of objects that had followed him from studio to studio for more than forty years to be brought from Nice. These were simple, commonplace objects of no particular value, sometimes exotic artefacts he had brought back from his journeys to Morocco or Algeria, items one could see in any bourgeois household of the time: a water jug, a coffee pot, an Alsatian wine glass, brightly patterned fabrics, a wrought-iron pedestal table ashtrays, shells, Fez pottery, Chinese porcelain, English china’ (ibid., p. 9).
The present work features a still-life motif which pervaded many of the canvases from this time. The porcelain vase, one of many small objects Matisse had collected over time, is given monumental treatment in the present work as well as in a closely related painting from the same year, Anémones et grenades (fig. 2). Depicted against the background of the vibrantly contrasted purple and yellow tones – which seem to denote light and shade falling across the studio rather than different surfaces – the vase is accompanied by pieces of fruit and an ink bottle. The top left corner, composed of vertical stripes of yellow and green, suggests a view through the window of the artist’s studio, abstracted to fields of pure, unmodulated pigment. This arrangement, as well as the use of bright, contrasted colours, is strongly reminiscent of Matisse’s early masterpiece Harmonie en rouge of 1908, now at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (fig. 4).
Juxtaposing contrasting forms and combining straight and curved lines throughout the canvas, in the present work Matisse underscores the unity of the composition, with all of the elements in the painting set on the continuous plane. This sensation is enhanced by the relatively uniform application of bold colours. As one of the last oil paintings Matisse executed prior to his final series of paper cut-outs, Vase d’anémones echoes the arrangements of collage elements that marked his late œuvre. In contrast to the vase which is outlined in black contours, the artist has maintained a border of bare canvas around each of the other elements of the composition, so that the patches of pure pigment resemble pieces of paper pasted onto the canvas. This device has the effect of eliminating any suggestion of modeling, thus boldly reasserting the flatness of the picture surface.
Along with its technical mastery, Vase d'anémones reveals a certain vigour related to the artist’s personal situation during this period of his life. Matisse’s paintings of 1946, including the present work, take on a rejuvenated sense of artistic perseverance perhaps ignited by having been faced with his own mortality as a result of an operation in the earlier part of the decade. Working from his studio at Villa Le Rêve, Matisse painted with an intensity and passion which he had endeavoured all of his life. The vibrancy of these canvases provided inspiration for Picasso (fig. 5), who frequently visited Matisse’s studio during this time. After his lengthy recuperation from a nearly fatal operation several years earlier, Matisse now embraced his new lease on life and enthusiastically wrote to his friend André Rouveyre in May 1947: ‘I’ve got several works in progress. I’m full of curiosity, as when one visits a new country. For I’ve never before advanced this far in the expression of colors’ (quoted in Pierre Schneider, Matisse, New York, 1984, p. 650).
Writing about the vibrancy of Matisse’s palette in his interiors executed around this time, John Elderfield commented: ‘The Vence interiors of 1946-48 are so flooded with intense color that it seems at times to overflow the limits of the canvas. Matisse shows us at once a mysterious interior space of colors and patterns, within which the specific identities of things are nevertheless retained, and an elemental chromatic plane, real and substantial that radiate light into the space around it. His last style, like the last style of the other great artists, amounts to a coincidence of opposites. The calmness of the interior space and the energy that is released into our own space are inseparable and interfused’ (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 413).
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