Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier brilliantly exemplifies what Matisse called "the colour of ideas." This visually arresting canvas marked the begining of a revolutionary campaign in Matisse's art in the fall of 1942, when he would eliminate extraneous details that characterized his depictions of Odalisqes in the 1920s (fig. 2). Instead, he turned his focus more exclusively towards the essential components of form and color. The present work encapsulates this new direction of his art, with its sharp tonal color contrasts and confident, linear clarity. "I will now begin to paint with the same ardour as I have drawn," Matisse proclaimed in 1942, and surely this canvas has much of the same vigour and spontaneity of his drawings (quoted in Matisse, A Second Life (exhibition catalogue), Musée Luxembourg, 2005, p. 108). Matisse's highly stylized portrayal of the sensuous model ensconced in a plush armchair makes no attempt at anatomical naturalism, prefacing the linear simplicity of the colorful cut-outs that would dominate his art in years to come.
The model in the present work is Carla Avogardo (figs. 1 & 5), a young Italian countess and friend of his model Nézy Chawkat. Hilary Spurling recounted Matisse's experience painting Carla as she appears in the present work: "[Carla] posed in an abbreviated dancer's tutu, with her long legs coiled up in a padded armchair on a checked marble floor. Dancer with Arms Raised in a Yellow Armchair launched an extraordinary set of variations which Matisse painted that autumn on the theme of girls in chairs on tiled floors, playing with light, multiplying and dividing it, making it glimmer and glow in compositions that reduced the minimal ingredients available -- a door, a window, striped fabric, slatted blinds, sometimes a couture dress from a cupboard -- to strips, swathes and swatches, broad bands and tilted planes of pure colour" (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, A Life of Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, pp. 411-412).
According to Spurling, Matisse completed one composition a week, working a few hours each day over the course of five months. Photographs from the period show the models posing for him in his studio, attesting to the fact that they were all rendered from life. The present work is perhaps the most assured and compelling from this group. Languorously reclining on an armchair and looking straight at the viewer, Carla is the personification of self-assurance. Her bright auburn hair is striking counterpoint to the coloration of Lydia Delectorskaya and Hélène Galitzine, who posed in the majority of Matisse's compositions during this period. But clearly the artist's boldest gesture here is his juxtaposition of the figure's curvatious form and ruffled dress with the stark geometry of the black and white tiled floor. The effect of Danseuse dans le fauteuil is one of profound confidence, both in terms of Carla's self-assured pose and in the artist's mastery of his medium and subject.
At the time he painted the present work, Matisse was living in Nice with his Russian model and studio assistant Lydia Delectorskaya. Matisse had moved into the Hôtel Régina in Nice in October 1939, returning to the grand rooms which had become both the artist's home and studio in the south of France. Although he suffered intermittently from ill health and at times was confined to bed, the artist painted some of the most life-affirming and colorful compositions. His work in the early 1940s is characterized by Alfred Barr as demonstrating a "complete synthesis after fifty years of study and ceaseless research in which academic, impressionist, quasi-primitive, arbitrarily abstract and comparatively realistic styles were all put to the test."
Having largely turned his back on the outside world at the beginning of the war, Matisse concentrated almost exclusively on capturing in his painting the richly decorated interior of his rooms in the Hôtel Régina. He transformed his Nice apartment with paintings, mirrors, drapery, wallpaper, African textiles and decorative screens, creating a theatrical setting in which to depict his models. In the present work, the background is a boldly geometric black-and-white pattern, with a two-dimensional quality that denies the composition any sense of depth or perspective. The figure appears to be pasted against this background, which is identified by the title as the floor but can equally be seen as a wall behind the woman.
"I am going to paint with bricks," Matisse wrote in 1942. "I mean that I am going to work in density" (quoted in Matisse, A Second Life, op. cit., p. 108). With its saturated blocks of color, the present composition demonstrates its links to the more "hard-edged" line and decorative boldness of coloration that had characterised Matisse's style since his work on designs for the Rockefeller fireplace decorations in 1938 and for the Monte Carlo Ballet production of Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1939. Matisse worked in this bold and decorative style from the end of the 1930s, culminating in the great series of colorful and reductive paper cut-outs of the final years of his life. The bold colors and delight in beauty abundant in the present work attest to the artist's abiding spirit and richness of vision, undimmed by the physical hardships he had been suffering.
Discussing Matisse's female portraits of this period, John Elderfield wrote: "His model is shown in decorative costumes - a striped Persian coat, a Rumanian blouse - and the decorativeness and the very construction of a costume and of a painting are offered as analogous. What developed were groups of paintings showing his model in similar or different poses, costumes, and settings: a sequence of themes and variations that gained in mystery and intensity as it unfolded" (J. Elderfield in Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, p. 357). Indeed, like a musician composing variations on a given theme, Matisse constantly rearranged the pieces of furniture, decorative objects and plants in his studio, as well as his sitters' garments, tirelessly experimenting with his favourite theme and inventing new decorative combinations and painterly solutions, and creating one of the boldest and most life-affirming bodies of work in twentieth century art.
Oil on canvas
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, La Femme, 1960, no. 31, illustrated in the catalogue and detail illustrated in color on the cover
18 1/8 by 21 5/8 in. 46 by 55 cm
Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse. Contre vents et marées. Peinture et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, illustrated p. 369
Family of the artist
Heinz Berggruen, Paris (acquired from the above circa 1960)
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 1961 and sold:
Sotheby's, London, June 27, 2000, lot 19)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale and sold: Sotheby's, London, June 19, 2007, lot 15)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner