Derain's Masterpiece Captures the Style of a Muse and the Taste of a Generation

Andre Derain (1880-1954)
Madame Matisse au kimono
© 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The fabled 1905 Salon d’Automne may be the moment that art historians ascribe as the dawn of the Fauvist period, but it was the months preceding the October Salon that laid the groundwork -- a summer during which the giants of the movement, Henri Matisse and André Derain, embarked on an artistic collaboration in Collioure, France, that would change the course of modern art. Painted in August 1905, Derain’s richly detailed Madame Matisse au kimono portrays Matisse’s wife in an elegant, patterned kimono, a signature piece in which she was painted by several of the Fauve artists during this period. It stands as a lasting symbol of the unique camaraderie that flourished between the two artists that summer, and is undoubtedly the most important portrait by Derain ever to appear at auction.

The kimono was clearly an article of clothing dear to Madame Matisse. It appears in a painting of 1904 where Matisse depicted his wife on the terrace of Signac’s boathouse in St. Tropez and also in two almost identical works by Charles Camoin and Albert Marquet from early 1905. It is, however, only in this marvelous radiant portrait of Amélie by Derain that the kimono itself takes center stage. The curves and sweeps of the blue arabesque motif are beautifully rendered and complement the curves of the sitter, as she looks pensively downwards amidst the swirls and folds of her robe. The elegant arcs and soft lines of Amélie’s peignoir contrast with the straight lines of the table and the abstract greens and reds of the background, which themselves serve to heighten the intimacy of the setting where Mme. Matisse is sitting for her husband and her favorite of his painter friends.

The reopening of Japanese ports to the West in 1853 ushered in a new wave of art and aesthetics that were widely embraced by the European market. This fascination was further fueled by an enormous exhibition of Japanese prints, illustrated books, and printed scrolls mounted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the spring of 1890, which sparked a craze for japonisme in France. The Impressionists collected Japanese woodcut prints, and introduced these motifs and fashions into their work. With its cascading blue arabesques, the decorative pattern of Madame Matisse’s kimono echoes the prevailing engagement with the natural world at this time, and is reminiscent of Hokusai’s famous Great Wave of Kanagawa, from his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (1852-1858), one of the most reproduced images of Japanese art.

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