Exhibitions/ Matisse: In Search of True Painting/ Gallery Four

Gallery Four

Using Black to Paint Light

Matisse checked into the modest Hôtel Beau-Rivage in Nice on Christmas Day 1917. Less than a week later, he opened his window and began painting a view that extended from the room's interior out to the sea's horizon. When he showed the painting The Open Window (Room at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage) to his recent acquaintance, the elderly artist Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Renoir marveled over Matisse's incorporation of a black horizontal bar above the window.

Matisse repeated the composition twice more during his stay. A similar version, Interior at Nice (Room at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage), is painted in warmer tones, while a larger canvas, Interior with a Violin (Room at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage), presents a tighter cropping of the subject. It includes the same yellow baseboards and green chair seen in the two other paintings and initially featured a similar pinkish-red tile floor. Matisse repeatedly returned to Interior with a Violin, painting over his earlier composition. The predominant use of black and gray felt fresh to him and enhanced his impression of "the silver clarity of the light in Nice." Matisse considered it to be a particularly important work and later commented that in this canvas he had used black to paint light.

Woman at the Window

Inspired by the quality of light he discovered in Nice during the winter of 1917–18, Matisse began spending significant amounts of time in the southern city. The two paintings Interior at Nice (Room at the Hôtel Méditerranée) and Woman on a Divan (Room at the Hôtel Méditerranée), part of a larger series, were painted not at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage (where he painted the other pictures in this gallery), but at the Hôtel Méditerranée, about a half-mile to the west. He resumed some of the challenges he had set for himself with his earlier hotel interiors, this time adding both a human presence and more detailed reflections in the windowpanes.