- Henri Matisse
- 款識：畫家簽名Henri Matisse（右下）
Mr. & Mrs. Nathan J. Miller, New York (acquired from the above on April 21, 1923)
Private Collection, United States (acquired by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby’s, New York, May 14, 1985, lot 72)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale and sold: Sotheby’s, London, June 28, 1988, lot 34)
Acquired at the above sale
Painted in 1923, Femme en bleu à table is an exceptional portrait from Matisse’s Nice period, when his skills as a colorist were at their most expressive. Matisse completed this work in the apartment that he rented on the third floor of 1 Place Charles Félix in Nice, which would be the site of some of his most ambitious paintings completed in the 1920s. His studio had a magnificent view of the sea across the Baie des Anges, and the light that streamed through the window provided excellent illumination.
Having spent many years dividing his time between Paris and Nice, Matisse first took this apartment in 1921 and retained it until 1938, transforming it with paintings, mirrors, curtains and decorative screens, and creating a theatrical setting in which to depict his models. These rooms were essentially boxes of light, in which any variety of decorative elements served to enhance the brilliance of the central subject of his work. At times, Matisse’s canvases were covered in a variegated display of different patterns that were nonetheless harmoniously integrated into the final composition, at others his works were dominated by a single color that gave his portraits a more elegant simplicity, which recalled the deeply-saturated color schemes he used the previous decade. In the present work, the composition is characterized by the intense red background, wherein the blue of the woman’s dress and her pale skin stand in contrast with the sumptuous tones that surround her.
Matisse’s paintings of the 1920s are largely devoted to the subject of the female figure in an interior setting. Although strongly stylized, and depicted with little attempt at anatomical naturalism, Matisse’s portraits and figures were usually painted from live models posing for him, as documented in numerous photographs of the artist’s muses in his studio. Femme en bleu à table is an example of Matisse’s ability to combine the genre of portraiture with his penchant for exploring the effect of color. Here, he achieves a perfect balance between the bold hues that constitute the background, and the woman’s body, with her delicate skin-tone, her striking facial features and black hair, and the accompanying vase of flowers and yellow book. Matisse's bold exploration of color dating from his early Fauve years through his Nice period heavily influenced the work of many contemporary colorists including Mark Rothko.
Matisse often included flowers in his compositions, sometimes arranged in a vase of flowers, as in the present work, and in other paintings integrated as floral motifs and patterns. As Assia Quesnel describes: “The flower is at the heart of Matisse’s output. It embodies pure color, a notion that the artist explored ever since his early works, and that allowed him to spread color throughout the canvas, thanks to the circular movement suggested by the corolla of the anemone, for instance’ (A. Quesnel in Cécile Debray, ed., Matisse in His Time. Masterworks of Modernism from the Centre Pompidou (exhibition catalogue), Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma, 2016, p. 170).
Matisse's model for the present picture was Henriette Darricarrère, who started working with the artist in 1920. Although Matisse considered her his primary source of inspiration, Henriette would stop modeling for him after her marriage in 1927. In her recent biography of the artist, Hilary Spurling provided a wonderful description of what Matisse saw in his model: “Henriette was a living sculpture. The finely modeled planes of her torso and limbs caught the light... Her body articulated itself like a cat's into compact rounded volumes – breast, belly, haunch, hip, calf, knee – flowing smoothly into and out of one another from the calmer regular oval face to the balls and heels of her bare feet” (H. Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, p. 270).
Matisse first met Henriette, who was a ballet dancer, in September 1920, while she was performing at the Studios de la Victorine in Nice. She started modelling for the artist shortly afterwards, and according to Jack Cowart, “her family recounts that he encouraged her to continue her lessons in piano, violin, and ballet, also allowing her time to paint and attend musical and other social events in Nice” (J. Cowart in Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 27). Indeed this artistic and sensual side of his young model must have fascinated Matisse, who often painted her in a role of a musician, or as a painter in front of an easel, or as in the present work, as an avid reader. On other occasions Matisse dressed her in exotic oriental costumes, and painted her in the role of the Odalisque, one of his most celebrated subjects.
Jack Cowart wrote about the appeal Henriette held for Matisse: “During her seven years of modeling, Henriette excelled at role-playing and had a theatrical presence that fueled the evolution of Matisse’s art. Earlier, Lorette and Antoinette had initiated the exotic odalisque fantasy, but it was Henriette whose personality seems to have been most receptive. She adopted the subject roles more easily and could express the moods and the atmosphere of Matisse’s settings without losing her own presence or her own strong appearance. Her distinctive physical features – a sculpturesque body and a finely detailed face with a beautiful profile – are evident in many of the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper” (ibid., p. 27).