On Tuesday I talked about how Matisse made his great Blue Nude (Memory of Biskra) and on Wednesday I talked how about how Blue Nude influenced Matisse’s peers. (After nearly a year away from its home, the painting returned to view at its home, the Baltimore Museum of Art, last week.) But where did the painting itself come from?
Jack Flam and Isabelle Monod-Fontaine both note that Blue Nude was not informed by sittings with a model. While in Collioure in early 1907, Matisse tried something different: He worked from photographs and memory instead of from a live model. While the photographs used (or taken) by many of Matisse’s peers have been published and exhibited, to the best of my knowledge the photographs Matisse used in 1907 never have been. (They may no longer exist.)
Part of the memory he tapped was of what he considered an unsuccessful visit to Biskra, an oasis in Algeria that Matisse visited in spring of 1906. Years later, Matisse talked of how he particularly remembered the drama of seeing the greenery of palm trees and plants in the middle of a vast desert. Flam reports that Matisse first attached Souvenir de Biskra to the title of the painting in 1931, when the painting was shown at a Matisse retrospective at the Georges Petit gallery.
The art historical sources on which Matisse drew for the painting are fairly obvious and have been cited by virtually every scholar who has addressed the painting. (I’ll provide only a very brief Art History 101 list before expanding upon Matisse’s approach to the European nude tomorrow.)
The nude’s pose derives from the Louvre’s version of the Sleeping Ariadne (above left), a 1st or 2nd-century AD Roman version of a Hellenistic pose. Other versions of the sculpture are in the collection of the Vatican and the Prado. It’s a sculpture that has been much-mined by painters, including Ingres, whose important-to-Matisse Odalisque with Slave (1842, above right) just happens to reside a couple miles away from Blue Nude, at the Walters Art Museum.
As you might expect, art historians have typically placed Matisse’s painting within the context of both the European nude and the pastoral. Matisse surely would have been aware of and, as the most passionate artist-lover of the Louvre of his time, would have felt nearly obligated to address the both art historical traditions. These are paintings that were so well-known in Matisse’s time that he likely didn’t have to consciously work them into Blue Nude, they were just part of his language, indeed the language of any French painter. The fairly obvious sources include:
- The Dresden Venus, by Giorgione;
- Venus of Urbino, by Titian;
- The Pastoral Concert, by Titian;
- Luncheon on the Grass, by Manet;
- Venus With a Mirror, by Velazquez;
- La Grande Odalisque by Ingres; and
- Olympia, by Manet.
Tomorrow: I’ll discuss how I think Matisse attacked these traditions and how less-obvious paintings the Louvre likely pushed Matisse toward his masterpiece.