Odalisque grise et jaune is one of Matisse's provocative depictions of an odalisque, reclining in a position that best exploits the inviting curves of her flesh. Painted while the artist was living in Nice and during what is considered his most accomplished period as a colorist, the composition presents a medley of Matisse's greatest achievements as a painter and draftsman. He poses the figure reclining with her arm above her head, a position that appeared in several of his paintings, drawings and sculptures of this period (see figs. 1, 2, and 3). The artist himself once made the following remarks with regard to the subject that arguably dominates his oeuvre: “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. I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and color” (Henri Matisse, quoted in Jack Flam (ed.), Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 230).
The figure of the odalisque was one that had long been celebrated in the history of art, most famously in the 19th century by painters such as Delacroix and Gêrome. Matisse applied a highly personal approach to his interpretation of this subject, surrounding the figure with the rich textiles and the personal affects of his studio (see fig. 4). Writing about this series of Odalisques, Elizabeth Cowling commented: “In painting his make-believe harem scenes – nothing could be less authentic than the heteroclite mix of fabrics, costumes, furniture and bric-a-brac – Matisse sought to personalize and modernize the hackneyed Orientalist subjects which has first come into vogue during the Romantic period. Delacroix’s sumptuous Women of Algiers was of paramount importance to this enterprise and in the sum total of the Nice odalisque paintings numerous echoes of it can be heard…” (Elizabeth Cowling, Matisse Picasso, Tate Modern, London, 2002, p. 221).
The composition as a whole brilliantly recreates the intoxicating atmosphere of the harem which Matisse recreated within the confines of his studio. The composition is similar to one from two years earlier (see fig. 5), but in this work he has depicted the model from a closer viewpoint and emphasizes the contours of her torso. Discussing these paintings, Jack Cowart has written that, "these striking paintings are the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration and the odalisque placed in his 'brewing tension.' He surely enjoyed the deceptive game he played with this conflict between reality, appearance, and art, and dreaming and waking. These paintings are fantasies in the best sense of the word, but for the sake of denying such an accusation, he said: 'I do odalisques in order to paint nudes. But how does one paint nudes without their being artificial? Because I know that odalisques exist, I was in Morocco. I have seen some'" (Jack Cowart, Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-87, p. 37).
Matisse's model for the present picture was probably Henriette Darricarrère, who worked with the artist throughout his Nice period (see fig. 6). Although Matisse considered her his primary source of inspiration, Henriette would stop modeling for him at the end of 1927 due to her failing health. The present work, created two years before her retirement, shows the model in her prime, when she was the main focus of Matisse's compositions. In her recent biography of the artist, Hilary Spurling provided a wonderful description of what Matisse saw in his model, and Spurling's description can be aptly applied to the present composition: "Henriette was a living sculpture. The finely modelled planes of her torso and limbs caught the light ... Her body articulated itself like a cat's into compact rounded volumes -- breast, belly, haunch, hip, calf, knee – flowing smoothly into and out of one another from the calmer regular oval face to the balls and heels of her bare feet" (Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, p. 270).
For many years after the artist's death, Matisse's daughter Marguerite kept this picture in her private collection. Marguerite had been a good friend of Henriette Darricarrère and got to know the model very well when she visited her father in the south of France in the 1920s. This picture would have been a wonderful momento of those shared times.
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, Odalisque à la culotte rouge, 1921, oil on canvas, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Femme couchée à la robe fleur, circa 1923-24, charcoal on paper, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Grand nu assis, 1922-29, bronze, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection
Fig. 4, Matisse with his model Zita posed as an odalisque in his studio at Place Charles-Felix, Nice, 1928.
Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Nu sur fond bleu, 1923, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 6, Henriette Darricarrère in Matisse's studio at Place Charles-Felix, Nice, 1927.
Oil on canvas
Strasbourg, L’Art en Europe autour de 1925, 1970, no. 129
31 7/8 by 46 ¼ in. 81 by 117.5 cm
Pierre Schneider, Matisse, New York, 1992, illustrated p. 511
Marguerite Duthuit, Paris (the artist's daughter)
Jean-Claude Bellier, Paris (acquired from the above in 1979)
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva
Acquired from the above in 1983 by the present owner
Show bids Estimate