A certificate of authenticity will be issued to the purchaser of this work by Wanda de Guébriant, upon request, after the sale.
Nu aux jambes croisées dates from an incredible period of innovation and inspiration in the paintings of Henri Matisse. Painted in Nice in March 1936, this picture was created near the beginning of the incredibly close relationship between Matisse and his Muse, model, studio assistant and occasional confidante, Lydia Delektorskaya. As such, it dates from a period during which Lydia documented in her celebrated book, With apparent ease... Henri Matisse: Paintings from 1935-1939. Indeed, this sumptuous, flesh-filled picture is illustrated in colour in that book, as well as being shown in one of her own photographs recording an earlier state. This is due to the fact that Matisse painted Nu aux jambes croisées in two sessions, first on the 4 March 1936, and then later on the 20 March, when he took it up again and completed it. It is a telling indication of the importance of this picture to the artist that, considering he never worked from photographs, Matisse nonetheless took a picture of Lydia in this pose and position in front of the foliage and window, recording it for posterity. In that image, the artist's own position can be seen as the easel is shown in situ.
Lydia, a Russian emigré who had fallen on hard times, had initially entered the Matisse household as a companion for the artist's wife. A tall, blonde beauty, Lydia was hardly Matisse's 'type': he generally chose, as models, the women of the South, who he identified with the exoticism and sensuality that he sought to capture in his paintings. Indeed, early on in her stay, Matisse recorded her only once, enthralled by her hair.
It was only sometime later that Matisse turned to her and recognised the fact that a muse had been waiting under his nose; the discovery essentially took place in 1935, and would result in a string of Matisse's masterpieces; she would be a presence in his paintings and his life for the following two decades. During this crucial period during the mid-1930s, Lydia's body and personality, her presence in the studio, all helped the artist to find a new direction in his painting. During these early years, at the end of each painting session which generally would take up the morning (the afternoon being dedicated to drawing), Lydia would write down the artist's own dictated comments on his work. So, Lydia was able to record that Nu aux jambes croisées was in fact Matisse's 'attempt to do a Nude in the classic manner' (L. Delectorskaya, With apparent ease... Henri Matisse: Paintings from 1935-1939, trans. O. Tourkoff, Paris, 1988, p. 133). Likewise, she recorded his inventory-like analysis of the first state of the picture before it was altered and completed:
'At the end of one hour, it had become a small, intimate picture with a very pretty nude, but with flat colours and cramped. Sketched out with a thin wash of Viridian for the background.'
'The tracing of the greenery is made with Ivory Black.'
'The curtain - Yellow Ochre as a wash and Cadmium Red Light, pure.'
'The window pane - Cobalt Violet Light and White, laid on a previously-dried layer of Viridian.'
'The sash bars Viridian.'
'The body - White, shaded with a wash of Cadmium Red Light.'
'The first sketch of this figure had been made with Yellow Ochre; it had been done over with Ivory Black. There are traces of Yellow Ochre in the body.'
'The head rests on a cushion - Cadmium Red Light.'
'The second cushion, lower - Ultramarine Blue with some White and Black.'
'The horizontal part of the couch - a Cobalt Violet and White wash; the half-tones - with a wash of Black and White' (Matisse, quoted in ibid., p. 130).
This was Matisse's analysis after the first session, at which point he said: 'I stop myself: I am unable to complete the head in the same manner' (Matisse, quoted in L. Delectorskaya, With apparent ease... Henri Matisse: Paintings from 1935-1939, trans. O. Tourkoff, Paris, 1988, p. 133). Then, over two weeks later, he picked up the picture once more and completed it; however, it is clear from this finished state, with its highly-modelled, sensual and almost sculptural flesh, that Matisse's focus was on the body itself, and its place within the general composition. In this sense, it is an extension of the experimentation that had led, the previous year, to his Grand nu couché, also known as the 'Pink Nude' and now in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
That work, whose gradual transformations had been recorded at each stage by Delektorskaya, showed Matisse fusing some of his ideas about architecture and painting together, influenced in part by the large decorative works that he had been creating over the previous years. Indeed, in 1935, he had created few easel paintings over the space of half a dozen years; Nu aux jambes croisées, then, dates from a revival, a moment when Matisse was digesting and condensing a range of new ideas and influences. These varied from mural work to Cubism, a retrospective of which he had visited the previous year, and from Cézanne and to Lydia herself.
Here, in adopting the idea of the 'classic manner', Matisse was shunning the near-abstraction of some of his recent paintings, creating something luscious and sensual rather than crisp and architectonic. He has deliberately modulated the skin tones of his model's body, lending them an almost tactile feel, clearly revelling in the depiction of the flesh itself, granting it a substantiality rather than the more two-dimensional and therefore limited plasticity of the Baltimore work. Instead, Nu aux jambes croisées relates more closely to Nu au talon sur le genou, which was painted during the same period, having been started on the 4 March as well and completed ten days later.
That work imported some of that interest in architecture into the same pose shown in Nu aux jambes croisées, yet Matisse limited the focus of the painting to the model and foliage; the background was reduced, whereas in Nu aux jambes croisées Matisse has included one of his signature windows, allowing him to explore a range of colours, as demonstrated by his own description of the picture. The window allows Matisse a figurative means of exploring the contrast between straight lines and curves that underpinned so many of his paintings during this period; likewise, the plant lends a pretext the inclusion of lush, organic forms. It is a telling indication of Matisse's increasing sense of confidence in the path he was taking that during 1936 he would donate his formerly-cherished painting of bathers by Paul Cézanne to the Petit Palais in Paris; over the coming years, he would often paint with the sweeping, swooping curves that add such sensual rhythm to his paintings, rather than the jutting angularity of the 'Pink Nude' and some of the other pictures of the period.