This blog used to feature Henri Matisse on a fairly regular basis. As a consistent employer of life models for many decades, the man undisputably deserves the honor. But I think I might be slipping a bit. The great Matisse hasn’t appeared on Museworthy in quite some time, and we must remedy that, asap!
During the 1920s, Matisse was living on the French Riviera along the Côte d’Azur. At the time, the city of Nice was was attempting to develop a film industry, one that would hopefully compete with the prospering cinema scene of Hollywood. Film studios, of course, attract young hopefuls with dreams of fame and performing. Many of those hopefuls are young women. So it was inevitable that Matisse would cross paths with the 20 year-old Henriette Darricarrière, a dancer, actress, and trained violinist who was working as an extra in the film studios of Nice.
The timing couldn’t have been better, as Matisse’s previous model, Antoinette Arnoud, became pregnant in 1921 and could no longer model. So along came Henriette, ready, willing, and able to be her replacement. Matisse was delighted by Henriette’s confident, receptive personality and natural charisma. Most of all, he appreciated her innate ability to pull off the more flamboyant, theatrical settings he was focused on in his art during this period, mainly, the North African “odalisque” which was inspired by his trip to Morocco in 1912. Matisse was concerned that his previous models didn’t project enough authenticity and poise for this persona. Wearing the turbans and veils Matisse provided for them, they came across merely like young women playing “dress up” in oriental costumes, and getting hopelessly lost when placed among colorful walls and fabrics, exotic decor and, some might say, cluttered compositions. But not Henriette. She had the muscular dancer’s body and self-assured presence to make it work.
Years of a highly successful artist/model collaboration between Matisse and Henriette culminated in this painting from 1926, Decorative Figure on an Ornamental Background. It was met with mixed reviews, but I like it 🙂 Henriette sits nude, upright, and confident in front of swirling patterned wallpaper, an oriental rug, and a plant. Gotta have the plant!