From 1917 to 1932, Henri Matisse made annual trips to the south of France. These winter sojourns, commencing when the artist was forty-eight years old, "may have begun as a symbolic return to the adventures, challenges, and yearnings of his earlier years" (J. Cowart, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 26).
By this time, Matisse was already considered to be one of the two modern masters. During these years, often referred to as his niçoise period, his work underwent great change. The most obvious transformation during this time, perhaps influenced by his first meeting with Renoir in December 1917, was the reappearance of the figure in his painting. While Matisse's work would have developed regardless of his physical location, the environment he discovered in Nice influenced his work to a greater extent than any other location at any period in his career. He rejoiced in the light of southern France, introducing a broader range of soft tonalities to depict "harmonious, light-filled, and often profusely decorated interiors, with languorous and seductive models" (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse: Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 14). During a 1943 interview with the French poet Louis Aragon, Matisse expounded on his attachment to the region:
"Nice, why Nice? In my work, I have tried to create a translucent setting for the mind. I have found the necessary limpidity in several places around the world: New York, the South Pacific, and Nice... The painters over in New York say, How can anyone paint here, with this zinc-colored sky? But in fact it's wonderful! Everything becomes clear, translucent, exact, limpid. Nice, in this sense, has helped me" (quoted in J. Flam, Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, pp. 166-167).
During his time in Nice, much of Matisse's inspiration sprang from the actual rooms in which he worked. He painted Torse de jeune femme in the early months of 1918 in his room at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage (fig. 1), located on the Promenade des Anglais, and in which he was photographed in January of that year (fig. 2).
Matisse's work from this period was well received by critics and collectors of the time. His primary dealer, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, staged annual exhibitions until 1926, providing the public with an overview of his most recent work. The pictures sold well and quickly found their way into important collections. Patrons included members of the Paris art world, international collectors and agents, such as Alphonse Kann, Albert Barnes, Claribel Cone and Paul Reinhardt. In the introduction to the catalogue for the 1918 Matisse-Picasso exhibition at the Galerie Paul Guillaume in Paris, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire eloquently described Matisse's genius:
"Every painting, every drawing by Henri Matisse possesses a certain virtue that one cannot always define but that always strikes one as an authentic force. It is the artist's strength that he does not attempt to oppose this force but allows it to act as it will.
"It is not mere skill that has made this art simpler and this work more intelligible. Rather, as the beauty of light has gradually become merged with the power of the artist's instinct--an instinct in which he trusts implicitly--all the obstacles to this union have disappeared, the way memories sometimes melt into the mists of the past" (quoted in J. Flam, op. cit., p. 169).
Josef Müller, the first owner of the present work, was one of the foremost Swiss collectors of the twentieth-century. Born in 1887, Müller began to collect at the age of twenty and soon travelled to Paris where he encountered Ambroise Vollard. Acting under Vollard's advice, he acquired works by Cézanne, starting with a portrait of the gardener Vallier and by as early as 1918 he had already built a collection which included eight paintings by Cézanne, five by Renoir and five by Matisse, as well as cubist pieces by Picasso and Braque.
(fig. 1) Matisse with Self-Portrait in progress, Nice, January 1918. BARCODE 25240016
(fig. 2) Poster showing Hôtel Beau-Rivage, with the Jetée Promenade and Casino, early 1900s. BARCODE 25240009