A little about Matisse and his Models
Matisse, brilliant artist and colourist, friend of Picasso and lover of the Mediteranean good life had many beautiful models pose for him over the years.
But, they were never sexual conquests. To him, they were creatures of sublime beauty. They were youthful and feminine, earthy and exotic.
All but one remained as such, though, in the end, in his final years, it was the beautiful Russian model Lydia Delectorskya that came between him and his wife. Madame Matisse, furious at her husband's relationship with Lydia, left him as France fell into the hands of Nazi Germany.
Marguerite and LouLou
Matisse himself knew perfectly well that the erotic charge in his work came from a passionate desire that overrode straightforward lust. It was painting itself that seduced him over and over again with each fresh canvas.
His models included the
painter’s then teenage daughter, Marguerite and two of his students. But the one
he returned to most often was a professional model named Loulou, who spent a whole summer with the Matisses in a remote Mediterranean fishing village in 1909.
She was a typical Parisienne, earthy and tough, with dark hair, catlike features, a lithe body and skin so richly tanned by summer’s end that Matisse’s pupils nicknamed her “the Italian sunset.”
Henriette: The Odalisque; Moroccan Style Model
Henriette was discovered by accident after a carnival party where she had dressed as an Arab princess beauty from an Arabian palace harem. Marguerite, Matisse, and other friends at the party, all tried on turbans and embroidered Moroccan tops, but it was Henriette, always modest, even prim, in her street clothes, who wore the filmy blouses and low-slung pants without inhibition, becoming at once luxuriant and sensual. The perfect new model for Matisse's Odalisque paintings inspired by North African culture.
When Matisse established
himself in Nice, on the French Riviera, the painter himself said that these
Nice interiors are suffused with sublimated sexual pleasure. He claimed that
the intensity of his feelings discharged itself through the colors and forms
orchestrated on canvas around the models’ bodies.
No one who knew him well at the time ever doubted that these women were working partners, not sexual conquests.
Sex, in fact, was one of the things Matisse grumbled about having to do
without in Nice. So far as modeling went, he applied the same rules to human
beings as to a fish dinner. “I’ve never sampled anything edible that had served
me as a model . . . ,” he explained, describing a plate of oysters brought for
him to paint from a nearby café by a waiter, who later fetched them back to
serve to his customers at midday. Matisse said it never occurred to him to tuck
into his oysters for lunch: “It was others who ate them. Posing had made them
different for me from their equivalents on a restaurant table.”
Lydia and Love
In 1935 Matisse met Lydia. She was a Russian and by her own account she could hardly have been more different from the dark-eyed, black-haired, olive-skinned southern types he had preferred until now.