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Study for "Luxe, calme et volupté"

Henri Matisse
(French, 1869–1954)

1904. Oil on canvas, 12 7/8 x 16" (32.7 x 40.6 cm)

Matisse made this painting in the south of France, in the town of Saint-Tropez, while vacationing with family and friends. The forms in the painting—the figures, tree, bush, sea and sky—are created from spots of color, jabs of the brush that build up the picture. Matisse favored discrete strokes of color that emphasized the painted surface rather than a realistic scene. He also used a palette of pure, high-pitched primary colors (blue, green, yellow, and orange) to render the landscape, and then outlined the figures in blue. The painting takes its title, which means “Richness, calm, and pleasure,” from a line by the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire, and it shares the poem’s subject: escape to an imaginary, tranquil refuge.

Matisse said, “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”1 Matisse wasn’t interested in conflict or politics. This is an early painting by Matisse, and yet the idea of balance and serenity found here would remain a consistent theme in his work throughout the next 50 years.

Henri Matisse, "Notes of a Painter," in Matisse: His Art and His Public, 1951; repr. Herschel B. Chipp, Theories on Modern Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 130.

One of three base colors (blue, red, or yellow) that can be combined to make a range of colors.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

The shape or structure of an object.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

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AUDIO: Curator Ann Temkin discusses Study for “Luxe, calme et volupté.”