Espagnole is one of the finest portraits from Matisse's Nice period of the 1920s, when his skills as a colorist were at their most expressive. This is one of his more intimate compositions that allows for a close engagement with the lovely young model, who is dressed in the exotic costume of a Spanish lady. Matisse's best pictures of this period focused on "the harmonious, light-filled, and often profusely decorated interiors, with languorous and seductive models" (John Elderfield, "The Early Years at Nice," Henri Matisse: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 289). This splendidly painted work is a product of that rich artistic vocabulary and is a rare portrayal of one of those "seductive" models at close range.
Matisse painted this work in the apartment that he rented on the third floor of 1, Place Charles Félix in Nice. This would be the site of some of his most lavish interior scenes between September 1921 until 1928. The flat had a view of the Baie des Anges, and the light that streamed through the window provided excellent illumination of the tapestries and textiles in his studio. The architectural and decorative details of this interior were an added bonus, and they often featured in the background of many of the artist's compositions. Jack Cowart noted that "a densely and strangely patterned wallpaper and frescoed ceiling decorated the room... Matisse now had large demountable frames that would support the selected decorative fabrics he used as backdrops. In effect the artist had a portable theatre in these spaces" (Jack Cowart, "The Place of Silvered light: An expanded, illustrated catalogue of Matisse in the South of France, 1916-1932," Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1986-87, p. 30).
Espagnole (buste) is an extraordinary example of Matisse's ability to combine the genre of portraiture with his penchant for depicting wildly colorful interior space and ornate costumes. Despite the eye-catching details of the background and the figure's elaborate headdress and shawls, the model's face remains the center of attention. Her gestures and her direct gaze focus our attention, and her pale skin, angular cheek bones, pursed red lips, and large brown, almond-shaped eyes provide a sharp contrast to the deep reds and ornate patterning of the background. John Elderfield has compared Matisse's technique to that of Vermeer, who also effectively preserved the serenity and intimacy of his models in the midst of a richly decorated setting: "The kind of order he emulates here is indeed that of a Vermeer, or a Chardin, except that he shows us an unabashed sensuality quite foreign to any such earlier bourgeois vision. He looks also to Renoir and Courbet, and frankly enjoys the seductiveness with which he surrounds himself. The paradisal world he previously only imagined is here made real. The naturalism of these paintings is therefore not ironic (unlike Picasso's and others' at this time), but sincere and entirely unashamed" (John Elderfield, op. cit.).
This is not the first time that Matisse would explore the theme of the alluring Espagnole in his paintings. In 1923, the artist executed several works of the model dressed in Spanish costume including Espagnole, harmonie bleue in the collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see fig. 2). Unlike Espagnole, harmonie bleue, the present work depicts the model from a closer viewpoint and emphasizes the contours of her face.
The model in this picture is most likely Henriette Darricarrère who worked with Matisse throughout the 1920s (see fig. 1). Henriette was one of Matisse's principal inspirations during his years in Nice from 1920 to 1927 and she is portrayed frequently in his work of this period in a variety of costumes (see fig. 3). Matisse first encountered the young woman on the outskirts of Nice at the Studios de la Victorine where she was cast as an extra in a film. Henriette was a ballerina and violinist, and Matisse was immediately drawn to her "innate dignity, her athlete's carriage, the graceful way her head sat on her neck" (Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, p. 241).
Espagnole was acquired in the 1920s by Robert Treat Paine II (1861-1943), the distinguished collector from New England. Paine was a descendant of Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and other members of his family were celebrated philanthropists and social reformers. Robert Treat Paine II served as director of General Electric for forty years and was an avid art collector. He built an outstanding collection of Impressionist and Modern masterpieces, including works by Monet, Degas and van Gogh, which were bequeathed to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse with Henriette Darricarrère in Matisse's studio, Nice, 1921
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Espagnole, harmonie bleue, 1923, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Méditation (Après le bain), 1921, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Oil on canvas
Paris, Salon d'Automne, 1922, no. 1222 (titled Tête d'Espagnole)
19 7/8 by 13 5/8 in. 50.5 by 34.5 cm
Bernheim-Jeune, Bulletin de la vie artistique, Paris, November 1, 1922, illustrated
Elie Faure, Jules Romains, Charles Vildrac, and Léon Werth, Henri-Matisse, Paris, 1923, no. 33, illustrated
Bernheim-Jeune, 1922-1923: Seize tableaux de Henri Matisse, Paris, 1923, no. 3
Giuseppe Marchiori, Matisse, 1967, no. 72, illustrated
Guy-Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Henri Matisse: Chez Bernheim-Jeune, vol. 2, Paris, 1995, no. 541, illustrated p. 1101
Robert Treat Paine II, Boston (acquired in Paris the 1920s)
Elizabeth Paine Metcalf, Boston (by descent from the above)
Thence by descent