Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Matisse painted Odalisque assise in Nice in 1929, during one of his many sojourns to the South of France between 1916 and 1932. At no previous time in Matisse's career did his physical environment contribute so significantly to the appearance of his art during this so-called Nice period. With its vibrant coloration and warm light, Odalisque assise exemplifies the canvases of these years, exuding the freshness and energy of the Côte d'Azur. The seductive character of Nice so thoroughly permeates paintings like the present one that Dominique Fourcade asked in the introduction to a pivotal 1986 exhibition entitled Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, "Could what happened to Matisse's art between 1917 and 1930--when he lived in this city, this site, its ambience, not to mention its light--have taken place elsewhere?" (D. Fourcade, exh. cat., Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1932, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 50)
By 1921, Matisse had moved out of the Hôtel Beau-Rivage and then the Hôtel Méditerranée, taking up residence in an ornate eighteenth-century building at 1, place Charles-Félix (fig. 1). He painted Odalisque assise while living on the top floor of this building, in a large, airy apartment with floor-length windows which admitted such blinding light that Matisse spoke of needing an awning to protect himself. In contrast to the soft, shimmering works which Matisse had produced earlier in the decade, the paintings executed at 1, place Charles-Félix are sharper and more vigorous, their crisp outlines and acid colors bearing the unmistakable stamp of this newly intensified light. Describing the play of light in Matisse's interiors from the second half of the 1920s, the poet André Rouveyre writes, "The shafts of sunlight break or dissolve...are blunted, pierce through slightly, or penetrate deeply. They represent the point where his field of spiritual and visual sensibility begins, where his color originates...something latent yet imperious, which is the sovereign authority of a prince in the exercise of his art" (exh. cat., Henri Matisse, University of California, The Art Galleries, Los Angeles, 1966, p. 16)
During the mid-to late-1920s, Matisse also began to include models in his compositions with increasing frequency. In the present painting, for example, an odalisque dominates the composition, nestling in a turkish chair in front of a pale green wall and above a terra cotta floor. As Matisse commented about his odalisques and models:
Look closely at the Odalisques: the sun floods them with its triumphant brightness taking hold of colors and forms. Now the oriental decor of the interiors, the array of hangings and rugs, the rich costumes, the sensuality of heavy, drowsy bodies, the blissful torpor in the eyes lying in wait for pleasure, all this splendid display of a siesta elevated to the maximum intensity of arabesque and color should not delude us. In this atmosphere of languid relaxation, under the torpor of the sun washing over people and objects, there is a great tension brewing, a tension of a specifically pictorial order, tension that comes from the interplay and interrelationships of elements.
My models, human figures, are never just "extras" in an interior. They are the principal theme in my work. I depend entirely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature. When I take a new model I intuit the pose that will best suit her from her un-self-conscious attitudes of repose, and then I become the slave of that pose. I often keep those girls several years, until my interest is exhausted... The emotional interest aroused in me by them does not appear particularly in the representation of their bodies, but often rather in the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper, which form its complete orchestration, its architecture. But not everyone perceives this. It is perhaps sublimated sensual pleasure, which may not yet be perceived by everyone. (Quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., Washington, D.C., 1986, pp. 32-33 and 35)
The present work is particularly noteworthy as a study in color harmony. The pale greens and pale reds in the painting act in contrast, heightening the vibrancy and intensity of the work. The emotional, erotic charge of the languorously posed odalisque is diffused by the panoply of color and light which assaults the eye, and this interplay of relationships distracts our attention from the nude model and forces us to focus on the architecture of image as a whole. As Jack Cowart concludes, "These striking paintings are the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration, and the odalisque placed in his 'brewing tension'" (ibid., p. 37).
(fig. 1) Henri and Amélie Matisse, 1 place Charles-Félix, circa 1929