The Collection of Drue Heinz
Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
In 1926-1927, during his tenth working season at Nice, Matisse acquired two adjacent apartments that together comprised the entire top floor of 1, place Charles Félix, the neo-classical building in the heart of the old city where he had lived and worked, one story below, for the previous five years. After a lengthy period of renovations to combine the two flats, creating sufficient living space for his wife Amélie to join him on the Côte d’Azur, the sprawling residence was ready to occupy by mid-1928. Whereas Matisse’s studio in the third-floor apartment had been snug and heavily decorated, the new one was a veritable light chamber, with triple floor-length windows and a spacious balcony facing south over the Baie des Anges and white tiled walls that amplified the dazzling radiance.
Matisse immediately felt the impact of this intense, saturating light, which had the visual effect of flattening form and compressing space. “You’ll see, there’s something new here,” he wrote to Amélie in July 1928. “I can feel it inside myself, like a release. I had pretty well come to the end of what I could do with construction based exclusively on the balancing of colored masses” (quoted in H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, New York, 2005, p. 295). During the ensuing months, Matisse swiftly clarified and consolidated his new aims. “The retina tires of the same means. It demands surprises,” he told the publisher Tériade in January 1929. “For myself, since it is always necessary to advance and to seek new possibilities, I nowadays want a certain formal perfection, and I work by concentrating my means to give my painting this quality” (quoted in J. Flam, Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, p. 85).
Matisse painted the present Nu à la fenêtre—also known as Nu nacré (Pearly Nude) for the iridescent quality of its light—in his new studio during the first part of 1929 and sold the canvas to Bernheim-Jeune that September. The painting was reproduced shortly thereafter in two important monographs, one by Florent Fels and the other by Roger Fry, which paid tribute to the artist on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday in December 1929; it was first exhibited publicly at the Kraushaar Galleries in New York the following fall.
The focal point of this luminous, high-keyed canvas is the nude model, the subject par excellence of Matisse’s exemplary Nice period. “The Odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate,” the artist recounted. “I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and colors” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 230). Here, Matisse depicted a sultry brunette named Loulou, one of several ballet dancers from the Compagnie de Paris who populated the artist’s private pictorial theater in 1928-1929. Clad only in a sheer, open peignoir and a gold necklace, Loulou stands in a classic, contrapposto pose. Her volumetric curves play provocatively against the flat, abstract geometry of the tiled studio wall, a proxy for the rectilinear grid of the canvas itself.
Although the model’s eyes are closed in languorous repose, a wicker armchair beside the window faces outward over the panoramic vista, connoting the act of viewing that underpins the artist’s relationship to the world. The window had been a key theme in Matisse’s work ever since his revolutionary Fauve summer at Collioure in 1905, when he rendered the brilliant light of a new day streaming into his hotel room through an open portal—a metaphor for the very advent of modernism, representing the passage to a momentously new manner of painting. “For Matisse the window was a constant, as important in its expression as the room itself,” Shirley Blum has noted. “Together they enabled the pictorial revolution taking place on his canvases” (Henri Matisse: Rooms with a View, New York, 2010, p. 16).
In Nu à la fenêtre, Matisse exploited the window’s intrinsic duality—at once an opening and a barrier—to generate a tension between illusionistic depth and modernist flatness. Although the window grille recedes perspectivally at an oblique angle, Matisse has compressed the landscape vista against the fictive picture plane, linking the distant to the close at hand. Interior and exterior are rendered with the same sparkling white light and intensity of color, as a single, unified spatial realm. “The result is a productive ambiguity of ‘looking through’ and ‘looking at’,” Katharina Sykora has observed, “a continual back-and-forth between the pull into depth with its promise of a ‘genuine’ view and the visual threshold of inhibition that halts our gaze in the interior” (Henri Matisse: Figure Color Space, exh. cat., Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, 2005, p. 60).
The paintings that Matisse created in early 1929 represent the culmination of his work at Nice during this transformative period. Following his return to the Côte d’Azur that fall after his usual summer stint in Paris, Matisse found himself at a crossroads, pondering the direction in which the accomplishments of the last decade might next lead him. During the ensuing four years, he scarcely worked at the easel, devoting himself instead to drawing and print-making, extensive travel, and his decorative murals for Dr. Albert Barnes. When he returned to painting in late 1933, the condensation of pictorial means that he had begun to explore in the “Loulou” interiors provided him with a springboard to renewed innovation, heralding the mounting abstraction of the next decade.
“When you have worked a long time in the same milieu, it is useful at a given moment to stop and take a voyage,” he explained to Tériade, “which will let parts of the mind rest while other parts have free rein—especially those parts repressed by the will. This stopping permits a withdrawal and consequently an examination of the past. You begin again with more certainty” (quoted in J. Flam, op. cit., 1995, p. 88).
The Collection of Drue Heinz
Nu à la fenêtre
and dated 'Henri. Matisse 1929' (lower left)
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
New York, C.W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, Exhibition of Modern French Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, October 1930, no. 13 (titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, Exhibition Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Opening of the Albright Art Gallery: A Group of French Paintings from Courbet Down to and Including the Contemporary Moderns, November-December 1930, p. 15, no. 36 (titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, The 1934 International Exhibition of Contemporary Paintings, October-December 1934, no. 187 (illustrated, pl. 19; titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
The Art Gallery of Toronto, Loan Exhibition of Paintings Celebrating the Opening of the Margaret Eaton Gallery and the East Gallery, November 1935, p. 29, no. 182 (titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 20th Anniversary Exhibition of the Cleveland Museum of Art, June-October 1936, p. 123, no. 326 (with inverted dimensions).
Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, Contemporary Movements in European Painting, November-December 1938, no. 69 (titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
Ottawa, The National Gallery of Canada, Catalogue of Paintings Lent by H.S. Southan, Esq., C.L.G., May-July 1944, no. 20 (titled On the Edge of the Sea).
Los Angeles, Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Originality in Modern French Art, July-August 1945, no. 1 (illustrated; titled by the Sea, Nice).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Henri Matisse: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, Organized in Collaboration with the Artist, April-May 1948, p. 40, no. 71 (illustrated; titled Nude and dated 1928).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, November 1986-March 1987, pp. 226 and 330, no. 166 (illustrated in color, p. 226, pl. 182; illustrated again, p. 330; titled Nu nacré).
F. Fels, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1929 (illustrated, pl. 40; titled Nu nacré).
R. Fry, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1930 (illustrated, pl. 40; titled Nude).
"Modern French Paintings at Kraushaar and Harriman" in Parnassus, October 1930, vol. 2, no. 6, p. 18 (titled Nude in an Interior at Nice).
C.J. Bulliet, The Significant Moderns and Their Pictures, New York, 1936, no. 95 (illustrated; titled At the Edge of the Sea).
R. Kawashima, Matisse, Tokyo, 1936, p. 22 (illustrated; titled Nude Wearing a Necklace).
T. Mokuhansha, Henri Matisse 1890-1939, Tokyo, 1939, p. 103 (illustrated, fig. 206; titled Nude Woman with Necklace).
G. Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, pp. 83 and 155 (titled Nu près de la fenêtre).
J. Canaday, Mainstreams of Modem Art, New York, 1959, pp. 416-417, no. 502 (illustrated, p. 417).
K. Antal, Matisse, Budapest, 1964 (illustrated, pl. 32).
M. Luzi and M. Carrà, L'opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta fauve all'intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 463 (illustrated).
A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1975, p. 215 (illustrated, p. 452; titled Nu près de la fenêtre).
A. Davis, "Sutton Place Townhouse: Italian Designer Blends Fine Art and Décor" in Architectural Digest, December 1977, pp. 38-47 (illustrated in color in situ in Drue Heinz's home, p. 45).
P. Schneider, M. Carrà and X. Derying, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Matisse, 1904-1928, Paris, 1982, p. 105, no. 463 (illustrated).
P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 536.
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, vol. II, pp. 1302-1304, no. 694 (illustrated, p. 1302).
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 13 September 1929).
C.W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, New York (acquired from the above, 3 June 1930).
Harry Stevenson Southam, Ottawa (acquired from the above, March 1939 and until at least 1944).
Dalzell Hatfield Galleries, Los Angeles (by 1945).
Vladimir Horowitz, New York (acquired from the above, by 1948).
Mrs. Bertram Smith, New York.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, January 1961).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 18 January 1961.