Henri Matisse (French, Le Cateau-Cambresis 1869 - 1954 Nice)
Reclining Nude (Nu allongé), ca. 1925
Signed lower left: Henri-Matisse
Pastel on flocked paper
13 x 20 in. (32.9 x 50.7 cm)
Gift of Joseph and Enid Bissett, 1962
Matisse's work of the 1920s appears to portray a tranquil, almost dreamy retreat from his earlier avant-garde work; seldom, however, was he more devoted to the hedonistic project he had chosen early on as his life work. And despite the ideological miasma that surrounds his oeuvre of this period,1 pieces such as the Oberlin Nu allongé are among the artist's most popular and accessible to non-specialist audiences, male and female alike.
Matisse rose to prominence and even infamy at the Salon d'Automne of 1905, where, along with other members of the group soon dubbed the Fauves (Wild Beasts) by critics, he exhibited work that deliberately flouted contemporary standards of beauty and artistic competence. In 1908, at the invitation of a prominent literary journal, Matisse published "Notes of a Painter," a theoretical defense of his own work.2 Within this text, Matisse offered one of his most memorable comments on his work: "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue."3 For a man of Matisse's class and nationality, Nu allongé certainly offers this sort of anodyne pleasure. Indeed, it and other works of the 1920s are demonstrably closer to this ideal than the Fauve work that preceded it.
From 1917 on, Matisse spent part of each year living and working in Nice. Using a series of hotel rooms and rented villas as studio space, Matisse posed and re-posed his favorite patterned textiles and North African objets d'art with the body of his primary model, Henriette Darricarrère. Darricarrère began posing for Matisse in 1920, when she was nineteen years old. She had a background in ballet, studied violin and piano, and worked as a painter in her own right. Serving as partner to Matisse's work until her marriage in 1927, she skillfully played the roles Matisse assigned her--ballerina, odalisque, or remote and pensive muse--and is doubtless the model for Oberlin's pastel. Her elegant and long-limbed body dominates Matisse's production during this period, and she frequently figured in photographs of the artist taken at that time.4
Nu allongé and the many related paintings and drawings of the 1920s exhibit an interest in the later work of Renoir, much in favor with many of Matisse's own collectors, as well as in the theme of the odalisque, or harem captive, as powerfully envisioned by Ingres in pictures painted around 1840.5 Kenneth Silver has adroitly connected Matisse's interest in Ingres and a new Orientalism with France's resumed exploitation of its colonial possessions following World War I.6 The supposedly indolent, exaggerated sexuality, and submissive qualities ascribed to the Islamic world are evoked through Matisse's deployment of Darricarrère's nude form against a backdrop of pattern against pattern, with particular attention paid to the embroidered textile hanging against the striped wallpaper. The same elements form the setting for the work most closely related to Oberlin's pastel, also titled Nu allongé and of nearly identical dimensions (31.7 x 48.2 cm), recently on the market.7 The more erect posture and alert facial expression of the model in Oberlin's pastel, and its less polished surfaces, readily distinguish it from its sister work.
Both works were exhibited in Paris at Galeries Georges Petit in 1931 as part of a half-dozen pastels shown with a larger group of paintings by Matisse. This group apparently comprises Matisse's entire oeuvre in pastel.8 The choice of medium is significant for several reasons. Soft pastel was particularly popular during the rococo period, and in revisiting the odalisque in pastel, Matisse gave a distinctively ancien régime twist to his subject matter. Pastel can be a peculiarly erotic medium, its firm and fleshy sticks yielding a lush velvety surface unlike any other. Finally, pastel also offered Matisse a medium that resolved the ancient conflict between color and line, as it combines the colorism of alla prima painting with an immediate linear force. Matisse would later resolve this conflict in a different way in the cutouts that occupied his declining years.
Both pastel nudes partake of the same cult of bodily pleasure that Matisse had offered as a principle of his work in his statement of 1908. Yet Matisse insisted (mid 1930s) that this fantasy world was real: "I do odalisques in order to paint nudes. But how does one paint nudes without their being artificial? Because I know that odalisques exist. I was in Morocco. I have seen some."9 Matisse's adoption of a closed, interior world of female sexual plenitude as his strongest statement of the possibility of human contentment may well have been complicitous with France's imperial designs. Nevertheless, this work was strongly supported by self-consciously progressive female patrons, particularly in the United States, for whom Claribel and Etta Cone may stand as exemplars.10 Within the context of the naive and prudish nationalism that then dominated American visual culture, Matisse's embrace of the odalisque may have offered the possibility of a greater liberation, within which feminine pleasure and feminine agency would receive its full measure.
Work (C) 1998 Succession H. Matisse, Paris/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Henri-Émile-Benoit Matisse was born on 31 December 1869 to a family of merchants and grain brokers in Picardy in northern France. After studying law in Paris, Matisse was embarked upon a legal career in his family's hometown when, while convalescing from a serious illness, he was given a paint set to help him while away his hours of boredom. After this belated beginning, and over the objections of his family, Matisse returned to Paris to study painting, working at the Académie Julian and then studying under Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) at the École des Beaux-Arts. Despite this apparently conservative training, Matisse forged bonds with independent and radical painters at work in Paris, and by 1905 was perceived as one of the leaders of the Fauves. Paintings like The Woman with the Hat (1905; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) shocked the public in Europe and America alike. However, Matisse rapidly found patrons among elite American and Russian collectors, including Gertrude, Sarah and Michael Stein, the Cone sisters, and Dr. Albert C. Barnes, although his work remained controversial within France.
Matisse was then able to travel widely and to enjoy a measure of material comfort. By 1909 he moved his household to a comfortable house at Issy-les-Moulineaux outside Paris, at first renting and then buying the property in 1913. In 1917 he began to winter in Nice, on the Côte d'Azur, a region frequented largely by wealthy English and American tourists. Matisse divided his time between Paris, Nice, and travel elsewhere for the remainder of his life.
In 1925 Matisse was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. In 1930 his work was featured in important exhibitions in New York and Berlin; and he traveled within the United States while en route to Tahiti. Also, in 1930 Matisse returned to America to jury an exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and made a third visit in conjunction with the mural commission he accepted from Albert C. Barnes, outside Philadelphia. He had two influential retrospective exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1931, 1951); coinciding with the latter, Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, published his influential text, Matisse: His Art and his Public. Matisse, then in failing health, developed his late cutout technique in designs for the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence (France), consecrated in the summer of 1950. Matisse executed designs for other large decorative projects in the last years of his life, including his last work, a window for Union Church in Pocantico Hills, New York, commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1954. The artist died in Nice on 3 November 1954.
Barr, Alfred H., Jr. Matisse: His Art and his Public. New York, 1951.
Aragon, Louis. Henri Matisse: A Novel . London, 1972.
Schneider, Pierre. Matisse. New York, 1984.
Flam, Jack D. Matisse: The Man and his Art. Ithaca, 1986.
Elderfield, John. Henri Matisse: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992.
With Galeries Georges Petit, Paris
With Wildenstein & Co., New York
With Curt Valentin Gallery, New York (1931)
With Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Collection Joseph and Enid Bissett, New York (May 1958), by whom given in 1962
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Museum of Art. Unidentified exhibition (lent by Wildenstein).
Paris, Galeries Georges Petit, 1931. Henri-Matisse. 16 June - 25 July (lent by Pierre Matisse, New York).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, 1931. Henri Matisse. 17 May - 6 October. Cat. no. 69 (lent by Curt Valentin).
Spencer, John. "The Bissett Collection." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 26, no. 1 (Fall 1968), p. 5.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1976, p. 50, fig. 52.
This work is in soft pastel on flocked paper. It was removed from an acidified paperboard mounting in 1975 with minor damage to the supporting paper. It is extremely fragile.
1. Matisse's work from between 1916 and 1930 remains a contested terrain in art history, excluded and even demonized by some writers, valorized by others. For contrasting visions of this body of work, see Jack Cowart and Dominique Fourcade, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930(exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986); and Yve-Alain Bois, who in his important essay, "Matisse and Arche-drawing" (Painting as Model[Cambridge, Mass., 1990], p. 22), simply excludes this period from his analysis of the "Matisse system" and Matisse's career generally.
2. La Grande revue 2, no. 24 (25 December 1908), pp. 731-45.
3. "Ce que je rêve, c'est un art d'équilibre, de pureté, de tranquillité, sans sujet inquiétant ou préoccupant, qui soit, pour tout travailleur cérébral, pour l'homme d'affaires aussi bien que pour l'artiste des lettres, par example, un lénifiant, un calmant cérébral, quelque chose d'analogue à un bon fauteuil qui delasse ses fatiques physiques." Translation reprinted from Jack D. Flam, Matisse on Art (Berkeley, Calif., 1994), p. 38.
4. See Jack Cowart and Dominique Fourcade, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986), pp. 26-37.
5. For example, see Odalisque with a Slave(1836-40; Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, inv. 1943.251), or Odalisque with Slave (1842; Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, inv. 37.887).
6. Kenneth Silver, Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1925 (Princeton, N.J., 1989), pp. 258-64.
7. Sale London (Sotheby's), 1 December 1987, lot 36 (ex-coll. Etienne Bignou, Paris, present whereabouts unknown).
8. This oddity is noted by Alfred Barr, Matisse: his Art and his Public (New York, 1951), p. 198; and Wolfgang Stechow, Catalogue of the Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College(Oberlin, 1976), p. 50.
9. Quoted in English in Verve 1, no. 3 (October-December ca. 1938); reprinted in Jack Cowart and Dominique Fourcade, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930(exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986), p. 37.
10. On the Cone sisters, see Brenda Richardson, Dr. Claribel & Miss Etta: The Cone Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art (Baltimore, 1985); and Barbara Pollack, The Collectors: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone (Indianapolis, 1962).