Matisse painted this lush depiction of peaches on a silver tray whilst spending the summer with Mme Matisse (fig. 1) and their daughter Marguerite in the seaside town of Etretat in 1920. When he was not painting scenes of the Normandy coast from his hotel window, he occupied himself with a series of still-lifes, consisting of ripe fruit, fish and other objects that call to mind the freshness and vibrance of the summer months. This canvas is among the most colourful and spatially daring of the still-lifes, incorporating a variety of textures and tones that exploit the interplay of darkness, light, and reflection. During what is considered his Nice period (1916-1930), a major influence on Matisse's compositional arrangements were the still-lifes of Cézanne (fig. 2). The present composition, with its shiny tray of fruit depicted at an oblique angle from above, evidences how Cézanne's perspectival techniques were never far from Matisse's mind, even during the brief interludes he spent away from the Côte d'Azure.
The yellow and red checkered table cloth that appears in this picture can be seen in a number of Matisse's Rtretat still-lifes (fig. 3), and its prominence in this composition, set against the colored background drapery and fruit, evidences the artist's endless fascination with richly patterned textiles. Matisse began exploring the contrasting effects of tapestry early in his career, and the genre of still-life was a perfect forum for him to explore the visual appeal of these fabrics. As he continued painting into his Nice period, his textiles were often the backdrops for the pictures of his odalisques. But in his still-lifes, the brightly coloured cloths sometimes served as objects of central focus. In this picture, for example, the diamond-pattern on the table-cloth is reiterated in the patterning of the dark wall-paper and the red drapery. Matisse unifies the diverse elements of the picture with this repetition of shape and line, providing the viewer with a continuous and visually engaging composition.
Matisse also had extraordinarily avant-garde ambitions when he incorporated these richly patterned linens and tapestries in his pictures. As Hilary Spurling explains, Matisse's use of textiles was often a means to distort spatial perspective. We can see this in other compositions completed around the same time as the present work, in which Matisse has bestowed his compositions with an spatially improbable arrangement of objects, balanced by brightly coloured drapery (fig. 4). According to Spurling, 'Matisse converted textiles to his use in very different ways at different stages, recruiting them initially as subversive agents in the campaign to liberate painting from a tyrannical and decadent classicism that preoccupied his generation in the decade before the First World War. Flowered, dotted, striped or plain, billowing across the canvas or pinned flat to the picture plane, textiles became in his hands in an increasingly disruptive force used to destablise the laws of three-dimensional illusion' (H. Spurling in Matisse, His Art and his Textiles: The Fabric of Dreams (exhibition catalogue), The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2004-05, p. 23).
When Matisse returned to Nice after his summer in Etretat, he received word from Paris that his dealer Bernheim-Jeune would be renewing his contract for the next three years. In response, Matisse sent Bernheim-Jeune a selection of his most recent works, including this canvas. That fall, Bernheim-Jeune hosted an exhibition of several of the Etretat pictures, and the critic Charles Vildrac praised the great perceptiveness of these compositions: 'Matisse never ceases to see the image to be painted - one of a number of images that the same object can offer - exclusively, to hold it single and intact as a musician would hold a single chord among ten heard simultaneously and discern each note in it. He knows what he can and wants to reveal to us in a painting and consequently, he takes a stand; that is, he scuttles everything that could interfere with his vision, everything that could distract him and distract us from it' (C. Vildrac, 'Exposition Henri-Matisse', 15th October 1920, reprinted in J. Flam (ed.), Matisse, A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 199).
Fig. 1, Henri and Amélie Matisse in their dining room at 1, place Chalres-Félix, circa 1929
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Nature morte au pommes, 1895-98, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Les crevettes roses, 1920, oil on canvas, Everhart Museum, Scranton, Pennsylvania
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Pensées, 1918-19, oil on paper mounted on wood, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Oil on canvas
Paris, Galerie Berhneim-Jeune, Henri Matisse, 1920, no. 50
Melbourne, Herald Exhibition, 1939, no. 69
Edinburgh, The Royal Scottish Academy, 1956
London, Royal Academy of Arts, A Painter's Collection, 1963, no. 122
Paris, Musée National de Grand Palais, Henri Matisse, exposition du centenaire, 1970, no. 167, illustrated in the catalogue
46.4 by 65.5cm. 18 1/4 by 25 3/4 cm.
Cahiers d'art, Paris, 1927, p. 7
Raymond Escholier, Matisse: From the Life, London, 1960, illustrated pl. 31
Mario Luzi & Massimo Carrà, L'opera di Matisse dalla rivolta 'fauve' all'intimismo 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 310, illustrated p. 99 and illustrated in colour pl. L
Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, vol. II, no. 438, illustrated p. 955
Georges Bernheim, Paris
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the above in November 1920)
Mr Miestchnaninoff (acquired from the above in November 1923)
Sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 1927, lot 9
Paul Rosenberg & Cie., Paris (acquired in December 1927)
Sam Salz, New York (1937)
Edward Le Bas, London (1947)
Ernest Brown & Phillips, Ltd., Leicester Galleries, London
Sale: Christie's, Geneva, 6th November 1969, lot 159
Richard L. Feigen, New York (1969)
James Alsdorf, Chicago (1984)
Marilyn Alsdorf, Chicago
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