Many of Matisse's paintings of the late 1930s boldly attest to the power of simplicity, while others are exceptionally decorative and present models in elaborate "oriental" costumes. The present painting is perhaps more characteristic of the canvases of the period. Two women in long dresses are shown seated within an interior space that, despite its spareness, appears to be bursting with life. The gigantic foliage of the wallpaper seems to be in the process of ballooning in size and sailing away; the two faceless models seem themselves almost as weightless. More important, the vibrancy of the colors and the seeming immediacy of the painting's execution assign every component in the composition a sense of vitality.
The aesthetic character of Matisse's conception of color can readily be analyzed. It is a great deal more difficult to understand his view of the form of objects. His choice of color harmony seems often to have been based on the whims of his imagination, a desire to translate freely the delight of what he saw in a language whose strength lay in its very simplicity. Apart from an element of naïveté in his art, the techniques he employed in the application of color have something in common with a typical child's picture. In recognizing that "drawing is spiritual," he further believed that it was the most intellectual and probably the most difficult element in his art to master for one who "wanted to be able to use color as the vehicle for the expression of spiritual ideas".... Matisse was never a spontaneous painter. He never felt the urge to improvise nor to be satisfied with a picture painted on the spur of the moment. He felt compelled to develop a subject by degrees, to paint by stages, producing successive versions all moving towards a more complete understanding of the whole. This occurred more particularly around 1936, when he selected the technique of flat tints. He also developed a more intensive application of color. His genius sprang from "long patience" and his bold style grew from leisurely study, the outcome of thoughtful development. "The impression of spontaneity comes when a painter's powers pass from the conscious to the unconscious state." (J. Selz, Matisse, New York, 1964, pp. 61 and 64)
Matisse spoke of a "return to the purity of the means" in his paintings of [the late 1930s]. In forming their imagery, he abandoned the simultaneous blending of drawing and color in light that had characterized the Nice paintings; he turned instead to a counterpoint of drawing and color similar to that of the early decorative period, yet the two elements did not come together as they had then. This time, Matisse's search for a generalized, highly abstract space was beginning to expel volume-suggestive drawing lest it pin down and particularize the space of the painting and evaporate its immaterial quality. We see the consequences of this in the large, simplified works of the later 1930s.... Matisse adjusted open, flat areas of color one against the next so that space became almost exclusively a property of color alone -- even more so than in the early decorative works in which drawing and color fused to create space. The late 1930s paintings are far more resolutely flat and frontal than Dance or Music of 1910 in which the contours of the figures suggest volume. In the late 1930s, drawing contours form only as part of a surface arabesque, and it is often an entirely independent overlay across the surface of the color. What is more, the patient, deliberated method of this kind of painting (we can see it in the in-process photographs Matisse made at this time (figs. 1-4)) was in very marked contrast to the remarkable spontaneity of his contemporary drawings -- a spontaneity he was finding necessary to the act of drawing in order to release his mental images with the maximum of economy. (J. Elderfield, The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, New York, 1978, p. 20).
Giving in more and more to an innate love of luxuriant effects, he let the uprush of his feelings have its way and proliferate freely, expansively, in terms of the paints. A kind of trans- figuration took place, day in, day out, sublimating visual data, whether living things or static objects, into so many pictorial signs imbued with intense life. As early as 1934...this spiritual fusion was fully realized in a vibrant pantheism which swept up forms and colors with joyous rapture. Each element, carried to its highest lyrical power, was integrated flawlessly into the whole, whose compelling splendor it enhanced. Matisse better than anyone was in a position to gauge the success of his methods, and with a note of legitimate pride in his voice issued what amounted to an announcement of victory: "In my latest paintings I have joined the acquirements of the past twenty years to my essential substance to the essence of myself." In the gardens peopled by flower-women where he smilingly, endlessly strolled, we see feminine silhouettes, curves of chairs and furniture -- we see them all marry, intermingle and dissolve in a single vibrant vision of color architecture. (G. Diehl, op. cit., p. 67)
(fig. 1) April 20, 1938 (work in progress)
(fig. 2) April 21, 1938 (work in progress)
(fig. 3) April 28 or 30, 1938 (work in progress)
(fig. 4) May 2, 1938 (work in progress)
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Signed and dated bottom right 'Henri Matisse 38'--oil on canvas
Signed and dated bottom right 'Henri Matisse 38'--oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Oeuvres récentes de Henri Matisse, Oct.-Nov., 1938
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, 1939, no. 45
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Exposition Picasso-Matisse, May, 1946. The exhibition traveled to Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1946.
Chicago, The Art Institute, Chicago Collectors, Sept.-Oct., 1963 (incorrectly dated 1939)
Chicago, The Art Institute (on loan, 1975-1995)
28 7/8 x 23½ in. (73.5 x 59.7 cm.)
Cahiers d'Art, "Expositions et nouvelles acquisitions des musées," vol. 14, nos. 1-4, 1939, p. 76 (illustrated)
J. Cassou, Paintings and Drawings of Matisse, Paris, 1939, p. 24 (illustrated in color)
G. Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, p. 119 (illustrated)
M. Luzi and M. Carrà, L'opera di Matisse dalla rovilta 'fauve' all'intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, p. 106, no. 483
L. Delectorskaya, with apparent ease... Henri Matisse, Paris, 1988, p. 32 (illustrated in color, p. 263; unfinished versions illustrated, p. 262)
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, New York
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner circa 1946