Le Repos de la danseuse of 1942 is a stunning composition executed at the height of Matisse's career, combining two most important elements of his art: the female figure and patterning and decoration. Matisse's works of the late 1930s and early 1940s are largely devoted to the subject of a female figure in an interior setting. The model in the present works is the dancer Carla Avogardo (see fig. 1), the sister of Matisse's long-serving model Michaela. Matisse depicted Carla in a series of canvases on the same theme during the latter part of 1942 (see figs. 2-4), which all portray Carla in a variety of poses - always in the same blue dress - in Matisse's Nice studio. Languorously reclining on an armchair and facing the viewer, she reflects an air of abandon and repose suggested by the title. Carla poses in the flirtatious dress, shoes and a flower in her hear, attributes that suggest her role as a dancer and give her an exotic quality. The bold pattering of the floor tiles in the background and the armchair rendered in strong yellow and red tones add to the overall vivacity of the scene. The whole effect of Le Repos de la danseuse is one of the profound confidence, both in terms of Carla's own assurance of 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 model and muse Lydia Delectorskaya. Matisse had moved into 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. Whilst there, although suffering intermittently from ill health and at times confined to bed, the artist painted some of the most life-affirming and colorful compositions. His work in the early 1940s is characterised 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, after late 1939 Matisse concentrated almost exclusively on capturing in his painting the interior of his studio. Fascinated by textile decoration and ornamentation, the artist transformed his Nice apartment with paintings, mirrors, curtains, wallpapers and decorative screens, creating a theatrical setting in which to depict his models. In the present work, the background is a boldly geometric pattern, a two-dimensional plane against which the figure in the armchair seems to be floating. The pronounced horizontal and diagonal lines of the floor provide a dynamic contrast to the volumes and curves of the woman's body.
In his depictions of Carla Avogardo, Matisse paid considerable attention to her dress, shoes and headdress, delighting in rendering the playful pattern of her costume. 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), op. cit., 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.
Fig. 1, Photograph of Henri Matisse and his model Carla Avogardo in September 1942
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Danseuse assise sur une table, 1942, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Dancer and Rocaille Armchair on a Black Background, 1942, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier, 1942, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's London, June 19, 2007, $21,731,225
Fig. 5, Matisse's prepatory sketch for the present work, reprinted in Verve
Oil on canvas
Paris, Société du Salon d'Automne, Palais des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris, Salon d'Automne, no. XXV (titled danseuse dans fauteuil jaune --- carrelage rose et bleu)
18 1/8 by 15 in. 46.2 by 38 cm
Verve, vol. 4, Paris, 1945, no. 13, illustrated in color p. 40
André Lejard, Matisse, Paris, 1952, illustrated pl. 20
Lydia Delectorskaya, Henri Matisse, contre vents et marées. Peinture et livres illustrés de 1939 à 1943, Paris, 1996, illustrated in color p. 379 (titled Danseuse bras levés dans un fauteuil jaune, sol rose et bleu and as dating from August 24-30, 1942)
Yve-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso, Paris, 1998, fig. 157, illustrated p. 172 (as dating from August 24-30, 1942)
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Beatrice Glass, New York (sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, December 5, 1962, lot 88)
Robert Q. Lewis (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection (sold: Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, December 11, 1963, lot 86)
Henry Ford II (acquired at the above sale)
Estate of Henry Ford II (sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 12, 1990, lot 28)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner