© Succession H. Matisse / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013


Nature morte / Still Life


Pen and black ink on ribbed handmade paper
Inv. No. 16759 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.)

40.5 × 53 cm

zur  Biographie

This bright still life depicting fruit and a number of vessels is one of a series of variations drawn by Henri Matisse in Nice in the summer of 1941. The artist uses the most minimal of means to convey the characteristics of the various objects. The composition is dominated by a beaten copper cooking-pot resting on its side. Next to it, partly cut off by the edge of the picture, an oriental-looking vase is discernible, visible plant stems emphasizing the transparency of its glass. An apparently accidental rhythmic effect is created by the presence of another vase in the background and, in the foreground, a bowl of figs, a melon, and six further pieces of fruit, perhaps peaches and pears.


The items are shown extremely close up, giving the ensemble the effect of being only a detail of a larger scene. It is not clear what the group of objects is resting on, and the surface of the paper itself becomes the surrounding space; everything appears bathed in bright light. The objects arranged here are taken from Matisse’s immediate environment: they also turn up in his paintings and can be recognized in photographs. Thus it was not something imagined but something observed that gave the experienced artist the pretext he sought to embark on a drawing. He set himself the challenge of mastering a number of basic formative principles solely through the medium of the pen-stroke. Using only a very few thin lines, he contrived to capture the contours, convey the material quality of the objects and at the same time provide an impression of their weight and volume. A single striking accentuation of the melon with a broad pen-stroke lends it extra weight and so creates a balance with the much larger cooking-pot beside it, whose playful decoration tends, in turn, to make it seem lighter.


It was the summer of 1941, well into the war; Matisse was now over seventy. He devoted himself almost entirely to drawing during this brief phase; in addition to numerous still lifes, his preferred motifs were faces and female nudes. Prior to this, a major operation had forced him to abandon artistic work for some months, and it may be that he found the intensive period of drawing an easier way of resuming his work than painting. Nor were these drawings done in the service of his painting: throughout his life Henri Matisse regarded drawing as an autonomous and never-ending process of investigation and clarification.


In the Frankfurt collection, we cannot fail to notice the significant contemporaneity of this Still Life by Matisse with the late work of Paul Klee. Henri Matisse’s enduring influence on the following generation of artists is evident in our drawing by David Hockney.

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