Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The lively surface and warmly varied palette in Femme au fauteuil--Femme en négligé betoken Matisse's passage from the somber, archly modernist austerity of the work he created in Paris during the First World War to the more sensuously representational style he practiced beginning around 1920, when he was spending part of each year on the Mediterranean Côte d'Azur. Matisse decided in late October 1917 that another cold and dismal winter in wartime Paris was more than he could bear, and he traveled south to the sunny Midi, stopping first at Marseille and then nearby L'Estaque, where he and Marquet had painted two years before. In mid-December he headed on to Nice, a city he had not previously visited. "I left L'Estaque because of the wind, and I had caught bronchitis there," Matisse later recounted. "I came to Nice to cure it, and it rained for a month. Finally I decided to leave. The next day the mistral chased the clouds away and it was beautiful. I decided not to leave Nice, and have stayed there practically the rest of my life" (quoted in J. Cowart, exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 19).
Matisse returned to Nice each winter, spending longer periods of time there with each successive visit. He liked the Mediterranean light in winter; although it was less dazzling than in the summer, it created a more subtle spectrum of colors. "A little while ago I took a nap underneath an olive tree and what I saw was of a color and softness of relationships that was truly moving," he wrote to the painter Camoin in May 1918. "It seems as though it is a paradise that one does not have the right to analyze, however, one is a painter. Ah! Nice is a beautiful place! What a gentle and soft light in spite of its brightness!" (quoted in ibid., p. 23).
During his second stay in Nice during the fall of 1918, Matisse took up residence at Hôtel Méditerranée et de la Côte d'Azur, located on the seaside of Promenade des Anglais. He returned there for the next several years, taking different rooms each time. His wife and family usually remained at home in Issy-les-Moulineaux, outside Paris, occasionally visiting Nice; the artist was therefore alone for much of the time during his annual sojourns, devoting all his time to painting, drawing and sculpture.
On the last day of 1917, Matisse's friend George Besson took him to visit Renoir in his home at nearby Cagnes-sur-Mer. Although the aging artist had suffered from crippling arthritis for many years, he still painted every day except Sunday. Matisse admired Renoir's fortitude and unshakable dedication to his work. "He still did his best work," Matisse later recounted. "As his body dwindled, the soul in him seemed to grow stronger continually and to express itself with more radiant ease" (quoted in Renoir in the 20th Century, exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, 2009, p. 139; fig. 1). Matisse brought along some of his own recent paintings for the master's critique on a second visit in January 1918. They became good friends; Matisse saw Renoir again, as many as a dozen or more times, before the latter's death in late 1919. "He must have been as impressed by Renoir's unabashed enthusiasm for female beauty by his lively curiosity and courage," Jack Flam has written. "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 own sensuality. After twenty years of bourgeois family life, decades of being 'the doctor' and 'professor,' Matisse in his late forties seems to have wanted to learn how to be young again" (Matisse: The Man and His Art, 1869-1918, Ithaca, New York, 1986, p. 473).
Exposure to Renoir's late work induced Matisse to take a more classically descriptive approach to painting, while loosening up his brushwork in an airier, late Impressionist manner. The classicizing tendency was very popular at that time, as many artists turned away from the radical experimentation of the pre-war period to more conservative styles that looked to the past, with an emphasis on treating the figure. Picasso had already developed a distinctive neo-classical style in his figure painting, while retaining his synthetic cubist approach for still-life subjects. Around 1920, Picasso also became attracted to Renoir's late work, which was well-represented in the inventory of Paul Rosenberg, Picasso's new dealer. Cézanne had been the acknowledged progenitor of avant-garde painting prior to the First World War; now Renoir pointed the way to a more relaxed and hedonistic manner following the armistice, at a time when a war-weary nation was eager to leave recent hardships behind, and to enjoy once again its customary peacetime pleasures and pursuits.
Matisse had previously often depicted his wife Amélie and teenaged daughter Marguerite, but now that he was spending long periods of time apart from them, he had to hire his models locally. He also found for Renoir the young woman who became that painter's last favorite model, Andrée ("Dédée") Heuchling, and in 1920 the wife of his son Jean, later the renowned film director. With his family not present, Matisse could spend long sessions drawing and painting nude or partially nude models in interior settings, creating scenarios that were--pursuant to his encounter with Renoir--more than at any time previously tinged with the suggestion of erotic fantasy. The present painting shows his young model clothed in a sheer embroidered wrap, with her skirt or a sheet drawn up to just barely cover her sex. This filmy garment is possibly of North African origin, such as that which appears in the Algerian pictures of Delacroix and Renoir. A multi-colored robe of similar provenance draped here over the chair is seen in other paintings of this period (fig. 2). Such imported exotic wares were readily available in the marketplaces of Nice and Marseille. This simple raiment presaged the more elaborate costumes in which Matisse would adorn his models as odalisques in those sumptuous paintings he subsequently created during the ensuing years of his first decade in Nice.
The sense of idle, languorous reverie with which Matisse's invests his nudes and Nice interiors owes much to the Orientalist tradition in French painting since the mid-19th century. Matisse visited Morocco twice during 1912-1913--he still held vivid memories of these trips, which now inspired him to cultivate in the studio a fantasy realm that little resembled the real world outside his rooms. Nice was moreover the perfect place to do this--the city was an important center of the French silent film industry. Matisse's visits to local movie sets, where some of his models worked, also induced him in the privacy of his make-shift hotel room studio to stage tableaux that bespeak a discreetly seductive eroticism, while at the same time allowing him to seriously tap into the art of past masters, such as Rubens, Delacroix and Renoir, whose work in this manner he admired and--with a suitably modern inflection--sought to emulate.
A date of 18 May 1920 is given in Matisse's hand, with the artist's signature, on his notarized sale receipt for this painting and another addressed to Bernheim-Jeune (illustrated in G.-P. and M. Dauberville, op. cit., p. 844). Matisse probably completed the picture after he returned to Nice in February, having recently spent several weeks in London, where he worked on costume and set designs for the Ballets Russes production of Stravinsky's fairy tale opera Le chant du rossignol. He was again painting in rooms at the Hôtel Mediterranée. His model here is Antoinette Arnoux, an aspiring fashion model who began to pose for Matisse during the winter of 1918-1919, when she was eighteen years old. She sat for many of the early Nice figure paintings, and is best known for having modeled for the exquisite paintings Matisse created of a young woman wearing a plumed or flowery hat as well as those masterly drawings of the same subject he included in Cinquante dessins, a collection his dealer Bernheim-Jeune published in September 1920, on the occasion of the artist's fiftieth birthday. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., described Antoinette as being "pudgily adolescent, provincial and demure...a cold, aquiline beauty with shadowed eyes...alert and elegant...languorous and seductive" (Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York and London, 1975, p. 206). She normally wore her hair in long tresses, occasionally drawn back or coifed atop her head in the chapeau paintings and drawings. Antoinette subsequently bobbed her hair in the fashionable style of the day, as she is seen in the present painting, and another done this year, where clad in only her chemise she dreamily looks up from a book (fig. 3).
Gaston Bernheim de Villers (1870-1953), who with his brother Josse owned the prestigious Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, retained this painting for his personal collection, until he sold it to Sam Salz, one of the leading dealers of modern French paintings in New York, after the Second World War. The third owner of this painting was the New York collector Nathan L. Halpern. After working for William S. Paley at CBS television, Halpern founded his own television distribution company, in which he pioneered the broadcasting of live theater and other real-time events, and the use of satellite technology. He was a benefactor and member of the corporation for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Matisse's sale receipt for this and another painting (Dauberville, no. 368), dated 18 May 1920. BARCODE: 28863281
(fig. 1) Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Concert, circa 1919. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. BARCODE: 28861324
(fig. 2) Henri Matisse, Intérieur à Nice, femme assise avec un livre, 1920. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE: 28861355
(fig. 3) Henri Matisse, Le petit déjeuner, 1920. Philadelphia Museum of Art. BARCODE: 28861348