In conjunction with the exhibition Matisse: In Search of True Painting—on view December 4, 2012, through March 17, 2013—Curator Rebecca Rabinow discusses Henri Matisse's process of painting Young Sailor I and Young Sailor II.
Matisse arrived in Paris in autumn 1906 with two pictures that he had recently painted in the south of France. Young Sailor I has all the hallmarks of his Fauve style, while Young Sailor II features extreme simplification of form. Not entirely sure of his new direction, Matisse told friends that the second version had been created by the local postman.
Images in order of appearance:
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Young Sailor I, 1906. Oil on canvas; 39 1/4 x 32 in. (99.7 x 81.3 cm). Collection of Sheldon H. Solow
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Study for "Young Sailor," 1906. Graphite on paper; 8 1/4 x 7 1/4 in. (21 x 18.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.40)
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Young Sailor II, 1906. Oil on canvas; 39 7/8 x 32 5/8 in. (101.3 x 82.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.41)
© 2012 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, for all works of the artist
Rebecca Rabinow: Matisse painted Young Sailor I in the summer of 1906, and we think that he painted Young Sailor II within a few months of that.
Matisse had gone to Collioure, in southwestern France, a few times. In the summer of 1906, there was a teenage boy living in the house next door and Matisse asked him to pose. Matisse sketched the boy directly onto the canvas, and then he covered it with strokes of black paint, and then filled in those forms with these brightly colored, loose brushstrokes.
He made drawings after it. There are a number of compositional similarities, but there are differences too. If you look at where the hand is placed against the face in the painting, the top of the hand ends at the eye, but in the drawing, it goes all the way up to the hat. This drawing is also very close to a painting that Matisse made next. Basically, he took a canvas the same size as the first and repainted the composition, but in an entirely new way. He simplified the forms.
When Matisse returned to Paris he brought both of these canvases with him, and he showed them to the American artist and collector Leo Stein. Leo wrote in his memoirs that Matisse had brought back a study of a young fisherman and a free copy of it with extreme deformations. He pretended that this had been made by the letter carrier of Collioure, but he finally admitted that it was an experiment of his own. I think the fact that he said that the postman had painted it was his way of sort of making a joke, while at the same time hedging his bets. He wasn't entirely sure of where he was going.