In conjunction with the exhibition Matisse: In Search of True Painting—on view December 4, 2012, through March 17, 2013—Curator Rebecca Rabinow discusses Matisse's process of painting The Large Blue Dress.
In the 1930s, Matisse hired a photographer to document his progress on certain paintings. Ten photographs taken during the creation of The Large Blue Dress reveal Matisse's extensive reworking of the composition as he progressed from a more naturalistic sketch to a flatter, stylized image.
Images in order of appearance:
Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). The Large Blue Dress, 1937. Oil on canvas; 36 1/2 x 29 in. (92.7 x 73.7 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1956
Rolando Ricci, Lydia Delectorskaya, Fonds Lydia Delectorskaya, Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Skirt sewn by Lydia Delectorskaya, and worn by her while posing for Matisse's The Large Blue Dress, ca. 1936. Silk with cotton lace trim. Private collection
Lydia Delectorskaya standing next to the fireplace in Matisse's studio at 1, place Charles-Félix, Nice, ca. 1935. Archives Matisse, Paris
Matossian. Series of photographs showing the development of The Large Blue Dress in 1937: February 26; March 12; March 22; April 2. Digital images provided by Archives Matisse, Paris. Photographs lent to the exhibition by Philadelphia Museum of Art, Henry McIlhenny Papers
© 2012 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, for all works of the artist
Rebecca Rabinow: Matisse painted The Large Blue Dress in 1937. The model for it was Matisse's studio assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya. She made the blouse and skirt in which she posed. We have a photograph of Lydia in the studio, taken around 1935, and you can see her standing next to this mantelpiece. Behind her, there's a wall covering that creates a grid-like effect. As Matisse worked on the canvas, he would eventually remove the mantelpiece from his composition and replace it with that grid.
The sequence of photographs show Matisse first presenting Lydia within the interior of his studio. But as the painting evolved, it becomes less about him trying to portray a specific person, as opposed to creating or conveying that emotion that he has. These photographs show not studies for the painting, but the actual evolution of the canvas.
The skirt, the dress—it all changes dimensions. Shadows climb up. The settee's arms become arabesque curves. He's not in the least bit interested in a naturalistic representation of what he sees. He used to describe it as trying to express the emotion that he felt when he looked at an object. He's trying to capture his essence.