Odalisque with Gray Trousers, 1927

Details     Description
Artist Matisse, Henri

In the late teens and early 1920s, Matisse painted many works in which a female figure is shown seated in front of an open window. Then, gradually, he began to close in the environment of his apartment at 1 place Charles-FĂ©lix in Nice, doing away with the windows and placing Moorish-style screens, oriental fabrics, and flowered papers in the background to create a stage set for the figure. As he me to emphasize these decorative patterns, he gave the figure the guise of an odalisque. Although he had portrayed odalisques before, following winter trips to Morocco in 1911-12 and 1912-13, the lush Mediterranean environment of Nice, where he had taken up residence, inspired renewed fascination with the theme. Matisse’s odalisques are at once exotic and erotic, in the tradition of the hothouses created by Delacroix and Ingres. When asked about his interest, however, Matisse sidestepped these associations: “I paint odalisques in order to paint the nude. But how is the nude to be painted without being artificial? And also because I know it exists. I was in Morocco. I saw it.” Certainly, the odalisque in Odalisque with Gray Trousers, with her athletic body and disproportionately small head, is less sensual than others Matisse painted during the 1920s. The image of a voluptuous harem girl has been diminished, in part due to the influence of Michelangelo sculpture, for about this time in his career Matisse was adapting a number of poses from figures in the Medici Chapel.

Matisse’s compositions of the 1920s, culminating in such works as the one here, render all elements equal in weight. That is, even while the sculptural figure is in dramatic contrast to the flat planarity of the various fabrics, Matisse’ ambition is to make a vibrant unity of diverse, equally emphasized parts. This dynamic organization is reinforced by the sharp, sometimes discordant, colour contrasts. Rhythm is the crucial vehicle by which the painting is constructed, staccato when jumping from pattern to pattern or colour to colour, languorous when following the full curves of the samovar, echoed by the figure’s exaggerated body.

Odalisque with Gray Trousers varies from other works of 1927 by the absence of the oft-repeated table and by the distinctly more contrived depiction of the figure, but the inclusion of the samovar marks it as a work of that year. From 1920 to early 1927, Matisse principal model was Henriette Darricarrére. Although the artist generalizes his figures to such an extent that positive identification is made difficult, comparison with a contemporaneous photograph suggests that the pursed-lipped figure with hair gathered at the sides of her head is, indeed, Henriette. Therefore, the painting can with a fair degree of certainty be dated to early 1927.

It has been proposed that Odalisque with Gray Trousers is related to a drawing entitled Seated Odalisque, Ornamental Ground, Flowers, and Fruit. While there are numerous variations between the two images, if an amusing lithograph of 1929 entitled Odalisque, Brazier, and Cup of Fruit (fig is compared with both, the relationship becomes more assured. The lithograph combines features of the painting and the drawing, suggesting that the first two works were part of the same thought process.



Institution The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 65.1 x 81.3 cm