Henri Matisse Dance (I) Paris, Boulevard des Invalides, early 1909

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 506 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Matisse created Dance (I) as a study for a painting commissioned by the Russian businessman and arts patron Sergei Shchukin. The final work and its pendant painting, Music (both completed in 1910), are housed in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Dance (I) marks a moment in Matisse’s career when he embraced a reductive approach to painting, seeking the expressive potentials of fundamental elements: line, color, and form.

This daring approach was influenced by the increasing sophistication of photographic technology. In 1909 the artist observed, “The painter no longer has to preoccupy himself with details. The photograph is there to render the multitude of details a hundred times better and more quickly. Plastic form will present emotion as directly as possible and by the simplest means.” Across this monumental canvas Matisse used only four naturalistic colors: blue for the sky, green for the ground, and black and pale pink in rendering the five figures. Although he made adjustments to the composition, Matisse’s final lines convey a remarkable fluidity and sense of dynamic movement in their economical application—in the sweeping curve along the front side of the left figure, for example, and along the outstretched arms of the dancers as they come together in an unhampered expression of joy.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Notice how each of the figures in Dance (I) seem alive with movement. Find the figure reaching for the hand of her fellow dancer. It’s almost like they’re dancing too fast for her to catch up. Pose like one of the dancers. What movement do you think they might make next?

Kids label from 2019
UNIQLO ArtSpeaks: Eana Kim on Henri Matisse’s Dance (I)
Oil on canvas
8' 6 1/2" x 12' 9 1/2" (259.7 x 390.1 cm)
Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Object number
© 2024 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture

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Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

1909 – probably October 1936, Henri Matisse, Paris
October 1936 – February 1939, Pierre Matisse Gallery (stock no. C834, P.M. no. 131), New York, acquired on consignment from Henri Matisse
February 1939 – 1963, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York, purchased from Henri Matisse through Pierre Matisse Gallery
1963, Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, purchased from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. through Sidney Janis Gallery
1963, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, acquired as a gift from Nelson A. Rockefeller in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.

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