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Matisse Paintings: The Yellow Dress

Posted by Susan Benford

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 Robinsoncone-sisters (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,matisse paintings yellow pottery resized 600 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 henri_matisse-1930several 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;Matisse paintings yellow dress

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.

Tags: Matisse paintings, Henri Matisse, mattisse

Matisse Paintings: In Search of True Painting

Posted by Susan Benford

The pairs, trios and series of Matisse paintings in the Met’s show, In Search of True Painting, resoundingly dispel the notion that Henri Matisse (1869-1954) painted hurriedly and with ease.

Matisse still life with purro 1 resized 600Rather, we learn that painting was often laborious for Matisse, despite the freshness and looseness of finished canvases.  These multiple Matisse paintings were 

Henri Matisse.  Still Life with Purro I, 1904.  Oil on canvas, 23 14" by 28 1/2".  The Phillips Family Collection.

vehicles by which he could “push further and deeper into true painting”, calculating, adjusting and experimenting all the way.

He was wildly successful. Because a photographer recorded these iterations during the 1930s, we gain an intimate look at Matisse's process and at the process of painting itself. Each is profoundly instructive.

matisse still life with purroMatisse’s academic training required copying old master paintings in the Louvre.  As he began foraging for his own artistic style, Matisse tweaked that traditional technique and began copying works of contemporary artists he most admired:

  • Paul Cezanne (1839-2906);
  • Paul Gauguin (1848-1903);
  • Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and
  • Paul Signac (1863-1935).

Matisse would also paint a still-life composition in the manner of other artists in his effort to understand their painterly choices.  In the Matisse paintings, Still Life with Purro, I and II, look how he evokes Cezanne and Signac.  While such imitation of 

Above right. Henri Matisse.  Still Life with Purro II, 1904-5.  Oil on canvas, 11" by 14".  Private collection.

other painters’  styles was educational, French critics in the early 1900s concluded that Matisse was unoriginal, with one, Charles Morice, stating that he found in Henri Matisse “no sign of a powerful, creative individuality.”

Starting in 1907 and for a subsequent decade, Matisse created over a dozen pairs of paintings of the same size, with the same subject matter, and in a style of his own. It is these Matisse paintings that start “In Search of True Painting”. 

Young Sailor I and Young Sailor II

One of Matisse's first pairs is Young Sailor I and II, believed to have been created in 1906 during Matisse’s stay in Collioure.  With its hints of Cezanne-like brushwork, Young Sailor I (left) has the hallmarks of Fauvism with its unnatural, expressive color and energetic brushstrokes.  Observe the highly thinned paint running over the model’s matisse young sailor resized 600thumb and thigh, as if Matisse is drawing attention to his painterly process. 

Left. Henri Matisse.  Young Sailor I, 1906.  Oil on canvas, 39 1/4" by 32".  Collection of Sheldon H. Solow.

Right.  Henri Matisse.  Young Sailor II, 1906.  Oil on canvas, 39 7/8" by 32 5/8".  The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998.

Young Sailor II has a backstory.  In 1906, Matisse first encountered African sculpture at the same time self-taught, naïve painters like Henri Rousseu – who had been reviled in the Salon des Independents for years – were being praised for their novel styles. 

It was in this evolving, fluctuating visual environment that Matisse painted Young Sailor II.  Note the sailor's almond-shaped eyes, flat color and deformation. When first showing these two works to his friend and collector Leo Stein, an unconfident Matisse claimed that Young Sailor II was created by the mailman in Collioure!

Luxe I and Luxe II 

Matisse had clarified his indifference toward “anatomical exactitude” as he sought the essence of a subject.  This approach is apparent in the Matisse paintings, Luxe I and Luxe II, his next major pair of works.

matisse le luxe resized 600

Left. Henri Matisse. Luxe I, 1907.  Oil on canvas, 82 5/8" by 54 3/8".  Centre Pompidou, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris.

Right.  Henri Matisse.  Luxe II, 1907-08.  Distemper on canvas, 82 1/2" by 54 3/8".  Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.

Luxe I appeared in the 1907 Salon d’ Automne with the title Le Luxe (esquisse).  An esquisse, or sketch, was a known category of work in 19th century academia; it was a quick or spontaneous exercise to explore a solution to a pictorial challenge, was smaller than its associated final work, and was deemed a private artistic endeavor.

But not so in the hands of Matisse, who not only presented Luxe I (esquisse) as finished artwork but further defied tradition by making it the identical size as Luxe II.  

Le Luxe II depicts nearly the identical motif with only a few compositional modifications from its predecessor. In the second canvas, Matisse has simplified the forms into flat planes of color, nearly eliminating visible brushstrokes. The show's curators postulate that after his trip to Italy in 1907, Matisse may have been referencing Giotto's frescoes in Padua. Certainly his use of distemper in Luxe II yielded a matte effect evoking frescoes.

The Dream

Matisse continued painting in pairs, altering his brushwork, composition, style, color and detail as he created nudes, interiors, views from his window, and the cliffs of Etretat.  In 1916 he began a series of paintings featuring the Italian model, Laurette, abandoning his practice of creating a pair of paintings.  

Critical reception, however, waned.  Critics alleged that his serial paintings were monotonous and his themes were outdated.  With Dada and Surrealism challenging traditional subject matter, Matisse was perceived as antiquated.

In the early 1930s, Matisse retained a photographer to record his paintings as he progressed; in 1945, a Parisian show featured six Matisse paintings and photographs of their evolution.

matisse the dream


Left: Henri Matisse.  The Dream, 1940.  Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" by 25 5/8".  Private Collection.

Right: January 7, 1940 photograph.  Archives Matisse, Paris.

The Dream began as a lovely woman asleep on a marble table amid fruit, plants and an urn.  Ultimately, she "has become an angel sleeping on a violet surface, the most beautiful violet I've seen", as Matisse described to his son.

Subsequent workings of The Dream eliminate the initial ornamentation and decorative elements as details of the figure disappear.  The balance of color and the simplification of her form become the focus of the painting.  

Matisse dream with photos

Met installation of Mattise's The Dream with photographs.

Matisse welcomed the public display of his finished paintings surrounded by photographs documenting his process.  Who could still contend that Henri Matisse worked spontaneously and dashed off paintings? 

Painters and non-painters alike will leave this show even more in awe of Henri Matisse. The freshness and seeming spontaneity of these heavily worked paintings are further proof of Matisse's genius. I can't imagine a more rewarding and education art exhibition.

In Search of True Painting will be at the Metropolitan Museum until 17 March 2013.  

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

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Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

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Leonardo, Lady with an Ermine

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Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

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Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

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20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

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Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Monet, Waterlilies

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MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Peeters, Clara

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

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Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

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Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

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van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

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van Gogh, Starry Night

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

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Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

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Famous Paintings by Art Museums

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionExplore famous paintings at the Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

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Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

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Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

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Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

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Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

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Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors