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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. He created the forms in the painting—the human figures, tree, bush, sea, and sky—from spots of color applied with quick, firm, repeating brushstrokes with which he built up the picture. Matisse favored discrete strokes of color that emphasized the painted surface over the naturalistic portrayal of a scene. He also used a palette of pure, high-tone primary colors to render the landscape, and 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, who was uninterested in conflict and politics, once said, “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.”1 The balance and serenity he strove for in this early painting would remain consistent in his work for the rest of his career.

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.

1. The range of colors used by an artist in making a work of art; 2. A thin wooden or plastic board on which an artist holds and mixes paint.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

Faithful adherence to nature; factual or realistic representation.

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

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

The lightness or darkness of a color. In painting, a color plus gray.

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.”