"There were very many wanting to be doing what he was doing that is to be one clearly expressing something." - Gertrude Stein, from "Matisse" (1912)
There is nothing extraneous in a Henri Matisse. He takes decoration to a place beyond anywhere it had been before. His technical dexterity can obscure the conventional nature of his vision. Despite flirtations with cubism and futurism, his vision of la belle vie was essentially that of a respectable bourgeois.
The Yellow Chairs is composed of three parts that function as two pictorially. A woman reclines on a chaise lounge, an aggressive vase of flowers sits on a chair at right angles to her and they are balanced by a pedestal table between the chairs. As usual in a Matisse painting, spaces collapse; the great artist felt no need for traditional perspective.
The dancer evokes Matisse's frequent use of women as odalisques in his paintings. Her arms form two arabesques in a composition that marvelously combines curves and angles. Her bouffant dress (a tutu) is outlined in curvilinear blobs of white trim that are echoed by the white flower in her hair. The armchair at left is Italian baroque armchair with straight black legs and deep aquamarine arms.
For Matissse, color was the vehicle he used to express his response to his subjects; verisimilitude was not the point Here, as often, Matisse mixes in patches of white with vibrant colors, creating a restless sense of movement, as though the sunlight had reached into the room to dapple its contents. Chairs are yellow, as thought absorbing the bright Mediterranean light. White tiles are painted in green and the black ones in aubergine, green and purple being complementary colors as is the reddish-orange arabesque on the chaise lounge. The draftsmanship is breezy with deft black lines rendered quickly.
Henri Matisse was seventy-three when he painted The Yellow Chairs. The year was 1942 and the artist had returned home to his studio in Nice after the Nazis occupied Paris. The year before Matisse had been diagnosed with cancer and there were complications after the surgery that left him two choices: to sit in a chair or lie in bed. But he continued painting although he would gradually switch to making cutouts. Yet no trace of that suffering finds its way into The Yellow Chairs.
Image: Henri Matisse - Danseur dans un interieur avec carrelage vert et noir (Dancer in an interior with checked floor tiles), 1942, oil on canvas, private collection, Great Britain (?).