Painted in I908


7 1/2 x 80 3/4"

Matisse has been haunted by the Venetian motif of nudes in an outdoor setting. This picture was done as he was groping his way out of "classical" Fauvism, and it owes as much to Cézanne (who had his own dream of nudes in a landscape) as to Gauguin. The problem was to adjust the figures to a background at once spacious and flat; in this the question of the "negative" or empty space between their contour, and the margins of the canvas became crucial, and I am not sure it is resolved. (The difficulty recurs constantly in Matisse's art, as also in much of abstract painting.) The artist tries to "imbed" the figures by using Cézanne's device of heavy blue shading outside their contours in order to make these vibrate backwards into depth. But perhaps they still remain too stark. Yet the whole picture has a monumental vigor and breadth that partly make up for its faults in unity. Notice how the hues in the background subtly complement those in the foreground, and how the undertones of warmth in their coolness help them to advance and enclose the figures. And see in plate 18 how Matisse treats a similar theme in a radically different way.




Painted in 1920


28 3/8 x 21 3/4"

After 1917 Matisse no longer attempted to work out new and "heroic" solutions for the problems of flat painting, but relaxed into the arms of French tradition -- which meant Chardin and Boucher as well as Manet and Delacroix.

Echoing things in the previous year's The Artist and his Model (plate 20), though very different in mood, the picture opposite was done, patently, in the same hotel room in Nice, and the same pink-striped tablecloth and blue-figured flower bowl again push back the seated figure. But the key is lower, the paint heavier, and the modeling more explicit.

Since 1913 or so Matisse had been using flat blacks and grays to set off bright colors; now soft earth browns, especially ocher, begin to do this office, and his color is more conventional and tempered. Here the tinted grays, the whites, and the tans on one side of the canvas bring out the sharper colors on the other side -- but the first side is where our eyes rest, and this contradiction reinforces the mood.







Painted about 1921


23 5/8 x 28 3/4"

In returning after 1917 to the beginnings of modern painting, Matisse discovered a new capacity for refinement. The approach here is Manet's, the precedent Chardin's (the first to use such clarified browns), but the result belongs entirely to Matisse himself. The relations of local color -- especially, between table edge and lemon -- establish the illusion of depth, not the darks and lights. The olive greens, pearly and bluish whites, velvety blacks, etcetera, float and ripple on the bosom of the darker tones as though seen through a crystalline fluid. And yet they remain firmly in place. A succinct and particular richness is obtained by simple color contrasts, delicate brush pressure, and a slightly more copious infusion of oil medium than usual.

There is something Cubist in the way the heavy wedge of light in which the glass pitcher stands jumps out of plane and breaks the integrity of the illusion; yet somehow, by rejoining the rest of the picture on the surface, it only confirms the virtual and aesthetic unity of the whole.