Henri Matisse, Portrait au manteau bleu, 1935,
Oil on canvas, 91,3 x 59,8 cm, © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / ProLitteris, Zurich
“It is impossible for me to slavishly depict nature; I am obliged to interpret it and subordinate it to the spirit of the picture. When all my shades of colour have been found, they must result in a living harmony of colours, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition… The choice of colours has nothing to do with scientific theory… Colours strike me in quite an instinctive way.”
For Henri Matisse the years between 1929 and 1940 were a period of new simplicity. During this time he sought to harmonize bold expressive colours with an increasing abstraction.
His painting “Portrait in a blue coat” from the year 1935 is one example of his new aesthetic approach. Dark areas of colour separate ultramarine and violet, golden blond, pale pink and red, which work to enhance each other.
The elegant looking young model for this piece was Matisse´s assistant and muse Lydia Delectorskaya. From the end of 1935 Matisse produced several portraits of her, revealing a new sensual quality to his work. In contrast to his friend and peer Pablo Picasso and his lover Marie-Therese Walter, Matisse´s relationship with Lydia remained purely platonic. However that didn´t stop them becoming close friends over decades of collaboration. Matisse said: “When I am bored I simply paint a portrait of Madame Lydia. I know her like I a know the alphabet.”
Lydia stayed with him until his death in 1954. A day before he died Matisse produced one final drawing: it was of… Lydia.