The world's most extensive collection of Matisse paintings and artwork is found at the Baltimore Museum of Art, amassed by the incomparable Cone sisters, Claribel (1864-1929) and Etta (1870-1949).
Etta Cone began what would become the 3,000 object Cone Collection with her 1898 purchase of five Impressionist paintings by the American painter, Theodore Robinson (1852-1896). Over time, she and Claribel amassed 500 works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), a collection conisting of:
- 42 Matisse paintings
- 18 sculptures
- 36 drawings
- 155 prints
- 7 illustrated books
- 250 drawings, prints, and copper plates from Matisse's first illustrated book, Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé.
Above: Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, and Etta Cone. June 26, 1903. Settignano/Fiesole. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Cone Archives.
The Cones' first purchase of a Matisse painting was his 1905 unfinished work, Yellow Pottery from Provence (left). Although the Cones didn't acquire artwork during the war years of 1906 to 1922, they resumed collecting in the early 1920s with their purchases of Mattisse paintings featuring odalisques.
In 1929, Matisse was living in Nice and wrestling with a painting block (as incomprehensible as that seems for such a prolific painter).
In September, he began work on what would become The Yellow Dress but abandoned it several weeks later to visit Tahiti and the United States. It was on this trip that Matisse completed his renowned mural for the Barnes Foundation, Alfred Barnes' Philadelphia art museum.
Matisse then returned to Nice, and again tackled The Yellow Dress, with two more rounds of working and abandoning it. His frustration is evident in a letter discussing his feelings toward The Yellow Dress:
During my trip, even while strongly impressed by what I was seeing every day, I often thought of the work I had left unfinished. I might even say I thought of it constantly. 1.
Many Matisse paintings of the 1920s featured women in interiors with shuttered windows, highly patterned backgrounds and decorative clothing. Those elements are present in The Yellow Dress and remained mostly intact during Matisse's frequent re-workings.
Right: Henri Matisse upon arriving in New York, 1930.
These pentimenti (singular: pentimento) signalled a new direction for Matisse.
The woman herself was altered in every dimension, as Matisse wrestled between direct perception and conceptualization:
her arms changed in position, length and girth;
her posture was altered;
Henri Matisse. The Yellow Dress, 1929-1932. Oil on canvas, 39 1/4" by 31 3/4". Baltimore Museum of Art.
the level of detail of her dress disappeared; and
the volume of the woman vanished until she became flatly painted.
As the Baltimore Museum describes her, though, she commands a "monumental pose and central position". Matisse's pentimenti and luscious brushstrokes and layered colors are a wonder -- it's as if Matisse is thinking aloud, paintbrush in hand.
Which other Matisse paintings do you think marked turning points in his career? Do you prefer the heavily applied paint of The Yellow Dress, or Matisse's more translucent paintings in which the canvas appears? Do tell.