Monday, July 12, 2010

Matisse : Objects at Le Rêve

Interieur Jaune et Bleu 1946
Matisse had a strong attachment to the objects he surrounded himself with - ordinary objects that he carried with him from atelier to atelier for over forty years: water jug, coffee pot, Alsasian wine glasses, pottery, shells, loads of colorful fabrics, and good number of chairs.With them, he created his universe of talismans through which he could channel emotion and conjure the beauties of the world.

Mon but est de rendre mon émotion. Cet état d’âme est créé par les objets qui m’entourent et qui réagissent en moi ...
My goal is to render my emotion, the state of mind created by the objects that surround me and that react in me...

Le Reve 1935 (Lydia)

When in 1943, the aging Matisse sought refuge from bombardments in Nice, it was with the aid of Lydia Delectorskaya that he was able to continue to work in the villa Le Reve in the tranquil town of Vence. His model since 1935, the highly efficient young Russian woman became his assistant and controlled all aspects of running his home and atelier. Less and less mobile, the artist expressed it simply, "sans elle, la maison n'existe plus." For Matisse, she was by turns Mme Lydia, the saint or the Bolshevik.... Whatever it took, for “maison” as anyone who appreciates Matisse must know, was an essential concept for the artist who repeatedly drew his inspiration from the interiors he occupied and the harmonies of objects he constructed there.

Helene Adant, Lydia's photographer cousin, was fascinated by the exuberant creative atmosphere at Le Reve. She visited often and was able to document the intimacy of the artist's working environment, the minute changes of his arrangements of objects such as he determined, or not, to paint them. Adant's photographs of this period from 1943 to 1948 are featured in this captivating edition by Marie-France Boyer Matisse at Villa Le Reve. The compact but rich volume traces back to the sources of Matisse’s inspiration through nature, models, and objects, giving a precious record of the artist’s working processes in the mostly silvery photos of the period.

Photographs, sketches, paintings serve as three witnesses of Matisse's constant conversation with the objects and furnishings without which he unable paint. This touching documentary reality exhibits the artist's tools and touchstones before their painted transformation and conveys the importance he gave to them as his “inevitable necessities.” Could there be any doubt? As fascinating as it is to see backstage, the back drops and props don’t contain any magic on their own, yet they resonate as the master’s vectors. My favorite chapter in the book is devoted to chairs, clearly some of Matisse's favorite sitters.

Already in 1908, Matisse had expressed the goal of his painting  was to create an “art of balance, purity, tranquillity, without any worrisome or preoccupying subject … a cerebral tranquillizer, something analogous to a good armchair that relieves physical fatigue.”

One chair stands out from the rest -- and it wasn’t for the comfort it offered. It seems Matisse was smitten with an ardent passion for its curvaceous figure, its captivating presence. The artist's enthusiasm for the chair acted as a needed stimulus for new creation. The Venetian Baroque beauty was made up of two silver scallops, one forming the chair back, the other its seat. Its arms were reptilian; the legs also lizard-like.
Sketches followed, and the new muse was incorporated into many paintings.

J'ai enfin trouvé l'objet desiré depuis un an. ...Quand je l'ai rencontré chez un antiquaire il y a quelques semaines, j'ai été complétement retourné. Il est splendide, j'en suis habité.   
I finally found the objet I've sought  for a year now... When I  came upon it at the antique shop a few weeks ago, I was completely head over heels.... It is magnificent and I am as a man possessed.

Here the Venetian chair is posed as if it sitting for its own portrait.

On peut avoir besoin de se recueillir devant un fauteuil.../...
c'est la tendre admiration reportée sur l'objet familier qui a donné à cet objet assez d'interet pour recevoir le trop-plein d'un coeur.
One can feel the need to meditate before an armchair.../...

It’s the affectionate admiration of the familiar object that gives it interest enough to receive the heart's over-flow.

 For more on Lydia Delectorskaya,  the Musée de Matisse of Nice is currently exhibiting

all images from Marie-France Boyer's Matisse at Villa Le Reve.


  1. I feel as if I have been read the most wonderful bedtime story. Beautifully told from the heart, the continuing conversation of animate/inanimate and the vanishing distance between the two.

  2. A really fascinating post; an insight into the life of one of the great artists. I can see why he was utterly captivated by the shell chair! Now to Lydia D...

  3. HbD If that is so, then it is just right for a story from the Dream house...

    Alaine- Thank you! I just checked my link to make sure it worked and was disappointed to realize that the interesting info on Lydia was only in French. Hope that is not too much a problem for readers who do not speak French in these days of automatic translation. Lydia was devoted to Matisse until his dying day. She made a considerable gift of the paintings and drawings given to her to Russian museums. She also wrote two books on Matisse.

  4. The chairs refuse to be upstaged! Whether or not a chair is comfortable to sit in is hard to tell without trying it out. Think: Goldilocks. What a charming piece.

  5. We're back to fairy tales again. That wretched little girl was right about one thing - it does take living with chairs a bit to choose one!

  6. oh i couldn't agree more with your last comment! although i have a husband who specializes in trying them out rigorously before he buys. (the piles of pictures i have of him in chairs in shops!)

    but your post just made me think again that matisse is a master because he succeeds so well in make us look again - as if for the first time at whatever it is that is around us. and to seek the beauty in it.

  7. That must make a really fun and personal catalogue of chairs, Mlle Paradis! Matisse had the courage to seek beauty even in a world that was Horribly Ugly - like trying for a bit of paradise each day, n'est-ce pas?

  8. What a wonderful a great lover of this artist I was in for a treat...
    thank you!

  9. Sophie - and I thank you for stopping in and leaving your comment. The book is a little gem for Matisse lovers.

  10. I remember visiting the Matisse Musée in Nice in 2001 and was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The striped armchair....such a strong statement in many of his works, really impressed me. When I returned home to Brisbane I had my wing chair reupholstered in black/bronze stripe........looked fabulous! Enjoying your beautiful blog dear 'le style et la matiére'!