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Henri Matisse. The Blue Window. Issy-les-Moulineaux, summer 1913

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Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954)

The Blue Window

Issy-les-Moulineaux, summer 1913
Oil on canvas
51 1/2 x 35 5/8" (130.8 x 90.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917

, July 18–October 11, 2010

Director, Glenn Lowry: In The Blue Window, Matisse offers us a clue as to what the painting is about and how he made it. At the lower right of the picture, he painted a gray square framed in red. That's a Claude mirror—a slightly convex, tinted mirror artists sometimes used to view a landscape. It darkened the color of a scene and simplified the forms.

Curator, Stephanie D'Alessandro: And that sense of reduction and simplification is something Matisse was after in this picture.

Curator, John Elderfield: And we can tell from the painting that the composition was originally far more naturalistic, that we can see the greens of the landscape very much underneath the blue.

Glenn Lowry: Matisse reworked this canvas several times.

Conservator, Michael Duffy: Looking at X-rays and also infrared examination shows us some of the changes in the composition. You can see these, in particular, in the upper right, in the foliage of the trees, where there were additional branches and leaf shapes that he painted out.

Other elements were shifted around, you can see in particular some interesting paint techniques in the cloud form, in the upper center. What happened was he scraped down various layers of paint, revealing pink and blue underneath, and also some green, resulting in this kind of opalescent color. And that's typical of Matisse during this time period, this scraping away of paint to reveal underlayers. Also you can see around some of the shapes some incised lines, where he took the end of a brush, or a sharp instrument and actually carved into the paint. This is also a very typical technique from this time period.

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