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Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune lists this painting in their Matisse inventory as having been painted in Nice in 1919, and in light of the fact that they acquired it from the artist in November 1920, it appears likely that Matisse painted this canvas in late 1919, during his third extended yearly sojourn in Nice. Sometime that autumn he returned to the Hôtel Mediterranée et de la Côte d'Azur on the seaside Promenade des Anglais, where he had stayed the previous year, and took a different room.
Matisse normally worked in Nice alone, away from his wife Amélie and their family, who remained in Issy-les-Moulineaux, outside Paris. Amélie and his children had often sat for him, but now he had to hire models locally. The young woman seen here is probably one of the sisters of Antoinette Arnoux, the girl who had posed for him during his previous stay in 1918-1919. With his family not present, Matisse had more freedom to work with partially draped and fully nude models. His renewed interest in the working directly from the model, and painting the odalisque in the Orientalist tradition, also stemmed from his friendship during the previous season with Renoir, whose home was in nearby Cagnes-sur-Mer. The ailing Renoir died on 13 December 1919. Jack Flam has written:
"[Matisse] must have been as impressed by Renoir's unabashed enthusiasm for female beauty as his lively curiosity and courage Matisse was not yet known as a painter of sensual nudes; he had not been primarily a painter of nudes at all, and most of those he had done were not notably erotic. His libidinous impulses had been largely sublimated in his painting, embedded in the pictorial language rather than overtly expressed in the subject. Renoir gave him the impetus to make new contact with his own sensuality" (in Matisse: The Man and his Art, Ithaca NY, 1986, p. 473).
The airy, light-filled quality, almost redolent of Impressionism, that characterizes many of Matisse's Nice interiors is but one approach the artist took to pictorial form and handling during this period (fig. 1). He also painted in a more classical manner, in which he gave greater weight, solidity and definition to the model as she related to her environment. The present Nu accoudeé is an example of the latter method. Here Matisse has concentrated on the contrapposto of the sitter's angled pose and the positioning of her arms, all circumscribed within the arching embrace of the slip-covered chair. This painting is also a study in closely modulated light and dark tonal harmonies. The cool white of the material draped over the model's legs is set off by the warmer, pale yellow cover on the chair, while the pink and pale mauve flesh tones relate to the harmony of the reddish and gray background. Matisse summarized these contrasting tendencies in his development to Ragnar Hoppe, a Swedish art historian who interviewed him in 1919:
"I first worked as an Impressionist, directly from nature; I later sought concentration and more intense expression both in line and color, and then, of course, I had to sacrifice other values to a certain degree, corporeality and spatial depth, the richness of detail. Now I want to combine it all, and I believe I will be able to, in time I want to depict the typical and the individual at the same time, a distillation of all that I see and feel in a motif" (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 75-76).
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Nu au peigne espagnol, assis devant une fenêtre à voilages, Nice, 1919-1920. The Cone Collection, The Baltimore Museum of Art. BARCODE 25010282