PRINT November 1968

The Sculpture of Matisse, Part III

THE EVOLUTION AND CHARACTER of Matisse’s sculpture were an outgrowth of his exposure to Western sculpture from classical antiquity to the salon artists of his day. This was in part the argument of the preceding articles. It has been often suggested that in at least a few sculptures between 1905 and 1908, Matisse showed a susceptibility to African art in terms of postures, proportions, and “angular” modeling. His sculpture of Two Negresses, first exhibited in the Salon d’Automne of 1908 as A Group of Two Young Girls and then as Two Sisters, it is generally agreed, though distinctly in his style, shows the strongest evidence of Africanizing in his work. Seen within the context of his previous sculptures and what we know from his teaching, it is possible to account for the postures, proportions and modeling of this sculpture apart from direct primitive influence. In short, Matisse’s admiration of African sculpture was not indispensable, essential or demonstrably influential in his actual sculpture.

It has also been conjectured that the situation in which the models are posed, as well as the bodily proportions, may have been influenced by Picasso’s 1906 painting of Two Nudes.1 Picasso’s women, who are one and the same, do not touch each other and are seen from the sides with mirror-like, non-African gestures of self-address. There are, in fact, sufficient differences in the proportions of the four figures (Matisse did work from live models) to remind us that there was no need for Matisse to imitate what Picasso had done, any more than he was inclined to imitate any other artist’s touch, whether it belonged to Rodin, Bourdelle or Daumier. Further, when the painting is matched with the sculpture, one might ask, as Alfred Barr sensibly did, whether it was not possible and more plausible that, as a sculptor, Matisse desired “to create a work in the round which will hold its interest from any point of view”?2

The presence of two figures in one sculpture was unique for Matisse, and the pose presumably developed in the studio (perhaps from a formal problem set for his students at this time). In his paintings he had often worked on the problem, one that went back to the Three Graces of antiquity, of uniting three or more nudes by means of either bodily movement, gestures or postural variation. His preference for the absence of movement in sculpture, confirmed but not inspired by African sculpture, led him to immobilize the two models. Comparable pairings of women in salon art produced nymphs entwining limbs, bodies swaying, and rapturous expressions and gestures. Rodin employed repetition of the same figure and all manner of acrobatics by which to bring together angels, lesbians, sirens and cancan dancers who had separate origins prior to their being united. Matisse may also have had in mind his personal sculptural alternative to the passionate couplings of Rodin’s heterosexual lovers. Maillol and Brancusi, respectively, paired lovers within the limits of metopal reliefs and the stone block, which did not appeal to Matisse for imitation. Dogon ancestor couples, for example, are often shown seated and facing in the same direction. Sometimes one of the figures places his arm around the shoulder of the other, never across the chest, and never while looking into his partner’s face.

The sculpture itself seems to tell us what Matisse sought to show: the harmony and analogies of shapes possible in the simultaneous confrontation of the front and back of two similarly proportioned women. The slight differences in their height, stance and positioning of the left arms made more natural what was a contrived situation. The embracing gestures locked and squared off the composition and added to the horizontal rhythms set up by the alignment of the feet, knee joints, buttocks and pelvis, and the breasts. Despite physical similarities, from the back the taller figure seems the more masculine of the two; Matisse may have been showing two lesbians.

What undoubtedly attracted Matisse to African art was that he thought he understood the ways in which this sculpture was sympathetic with his own views. He wrote, “All plastic writing, the hieratic Egyptians, the refined Greeks, the voluptuous Cambodians, the productions of the ancient Persians, the statuettes of the African Negroes proportioned according to the passions they inspired, can interest an artist and aid in the development of his personality.”3 Before we settle upon African-inspired sensuality as the source for the proportions of the Two Negresses, consider other views expressed by Matisse, many in 1908:

The antique above all, will help you to realize the fullness of form4 . . . The simplification of form to its fundamental geometrical shapes as interpreted by Seurat was the great innovation of that day5 . . . You may consider this Negro model as a cathedral, built up of parts which form a solid, noble, towering architecture . . . A human body is an architecture of forms fitting together and supporting one another, comparable to an edifice of which all the different parts play their role in the whole. If one of the elements is not in its place everything crumbles . . . Be sure your figure can stand upright and use a plumb line . . . it is very necessary for you to remember that your model is a Negro and to not lose yourself in the construction . . .6

In his admiration for African sculpture Matisse once compared a mask to porphyry heads in the Louvre, and Sarah Stein’s notes suggest that he once showed his class a “Negro statue” to illustrate proportions and support. But the Apollo Piombino presided over his classroom, not an Ivory Coast figure. Matisse’s European-derived ideas on explicitness of construction, his admiration of Cézanne and Seurat, which precedes in time his discovery of African art, and the use of Negro models seem to have far more bearing on his sculpture than West African figurines. We do not find comparable mutuality in African adult figures, and the large feet of his women (which fuse with the base) relate to his ideas on revelation of support and exaggeration in accordance with the character of the model. The angular modeling or faceting in the Two Negresses is not uniform and co-mingles with unedited modeled surfaces.7 Faceting, as seen in The Serf, was not an affectation of African carving any more than it was for Renoir in his sculpture. Posing a model with feet together and weight equally distributed between the legs was seen in an earlier problem he undertook. In terms of his own sculptures, Matisse may have viewed African art not as a source for imitation or inspiration, but rather confirmation of personal views regarding figural construction and passionate proportion. “See from the first your proportions, and do not lose them. But proportions according to correct measurement are after all but very little unless confirmed by feeling and expressive of the particular physical character of the model . . .” Robert Goldwater makes a good case for Matisse’s taste for “immediacy of effect” being African influenced,8 but early classical Greek sculpture, such as the Apollo Piombino, as well as the art of Gauguin, the Nabis, Maillol, and many other Western sources, were experienced earlier by Matisse and were probably more compelling as models for these characteristics.


WHILE AFRICAN ART EVIDENCES decorative objects consisting of carved hands worn by dancers, hands holding pipes, etc.9 (but never torsos alone, to my knowledge), Matisse’s involvement with the partial figure comes from his contact with Western sculpture, notably that of the ancients and artists of his time. In about a dozen small sculptures, Matisse, for various reasons, chose not to show the human body in its entirety, omitting either the head or limbs, and, in one case, making only a foot. For a man with academic training, who loved ancient sculpture as it survived in the museums, who resisted gesture and conventional rhetoric as a basis of expression, and who had liberal notions of what was essential to finished sculpture, it is not surprising to see his interest in the partial figure after Rodin’s demonstration of its validity by 1900. Alfred Barr reproduces a charcoal drawing made in 1892 by Matisse of a plaster cast of the Capitoline Niobid, which lacked head and hands.10 For centuries academically trained students had drawn from casts of ruined antiquities, but always with the understanding that this was for study purposes and not the model for finished works of painting and sculpture except in the Baroque period when they were intended to be imitations or souvenirs of ancient fragments.11 In 1908, Matisse included as a motif in his Still Life with a Greek Torso, the plaster cast of one of the fragmented pedimental figures from the Parthenon. (A reminder that despite his revolutionizing of painting’s form, Matisse was iconographically conservative.) As discussed in the first article, the sculpture of a foot may have been intended to serve Matisse as a study for The Serf, and thus was linked with a tradition of partial figures as preparatory studies in sculpture. The fragmented Ecorché and The Serf were early examples of the partial figure as a finished sculpture resulting from esthetic decisions, editorial subtraction of limbs from sculptures which either in the prototype or preliminary stages were intact. Madeleine I shows evidence in the handling of the left forearm of a treatment so cursory as to almost deny the existence of anatomy, while the right arm was cut off above the elbow. (Unlike Archipenko, but similar to Rodin, Matisse did not amputate his figures at the joints.) For an artist who felt that nothing must be left to chance, studio accidents, as they were for Rodin, do not suggest themselves as causes for the separation of parts of the figure from the body. We also learn from his work that a small-scale figure could be carried to different degrees of definition.

Beginning in 1889, Rodin was exhibiting partial figures as finished works, and he showed a large number in his 1900 retrospective in Paris. Bourdelle, who had also made partial figures under Rodin’s influence before 1900, shared the latter’s enthusiasm for the evidence of pure beauty in every fragment of ancient statuary in the Louvre. He could have communicated this appreciation to a receptive Matisse in 1900.12 In 1918, Matisse made a free copy of the famous Hellenistic Crouching Venus, the pose of the arms and legs of which he must have recognized as being the same, only in a reversal of direction from Puget’s Ecorché, which he had also worked from earlier. The results of the accidental breakage of the ancient figure might have appealed to Matisse because the absence of the arms allows easier readability from increased compactness. Conceivably this study from a damaged sculpture of Venus which still preserved so much beauty may have reinforced his later decision to deface with his knife the Seated Venus of 1932. (But there were blank-faced figures in such paintings as Bathers by a River, of 1916–17.) This was quite a different act, however, from the rough modeling of the 1918 Venus, by which he carried the head no further in its realization than the legs.

The partial figure whose pose most accords with one found frequently in Matisse’s paintings shows the body and legs of a Small Torso (Crouching Nude). This pose is seen in completed figures found in the Joie de Vivre, and the Le Luxe pictures of 1907, as well as the Bathers With a Turtle, of 1908. Although dated 1908 by Alfred Barr, and 1929 by the Matisse family, it is possible that this small sculpture is earlier than 1908. The delicacy of its facture would make this more congruent with what Matisse was doing before 1908 than in the late twenties. In the paintings, where the pose had become repertorial, it is evident that Matisse was not always satisfied with the gesture of the extended arm. In the Le Luxe paintings, the woman’s right hand is cut off by the towel with which the standing woman (Venus?) is being dried. Unless used for support, Matisse preferred not to have an extended arm in his sculpture, and the segmenting of the original Small Torso (Crouching Nude) served to contract the sculpture into the complementary forms of the legs and torso. (One wonders if the figure was immediately mounted, or, as with many of Rodin’s small figures, allowed to live a life in the hands, independent of a base.) The cutting off of the arms was not done haphazardly, for Matisse left just enough to show what had been the arm’s direction, like so many of Rodin’s and Maillol’s partial figures.

There are no sculptural studies of hands by Matisse to my knowledge, and neither in painting nor sculpture did he share Rodin’s passion for studying and recreating their potential eloquence. Matisse was not alone in finding hands and arms either troublesome or expendable for sculpture. His friend Maillol often said, according to his last model, Dina Vierny, “Arms are my Calvary!” On large-scale commissions Maillol felt compelled to add the arms, afterwards privately preferring the original partial figure. We may have an insight into Matisse’s aversion to detailing hands in sculpture, beyond his views on expression, by an observation he made concerning why he thought Delacroix reduced hands to claws, a private cipher, instead of portraying them like Ingres and Corot: “There are two categories of artists . . . those who on each occasion make a new portrait of the hand each time, Corot for example . . . the others who make of the hand a sign, like Delacroix. With signs one can compose freely and ornamentally.”13

In his Crouching Nude, of 1906, Matisse reduced the raised and lowered upper arms to tapering signs; in Small Crouching Nude Without Arm, of 1908, the woman’s left hand is indistinguishable and melts into the head. His Seated Nude, Arm Behind Her Back, shows both the device of the undefined hand and the segmentation of the arm below the elbow in order to preserve the more decorative and less literal quality of the figure, and accents the thrust of the torso into the space around it.

There does not appear to be any example of Matisse seeking to imitate a partial figure by Rodin or Bourdelle, and except for the indication that the missing arms were raised, his so-called Standing Torso Without Arms or Head, of 1909, could have been a private competition with Maillol’s partial figure, Ile de France, which shows a striding young woman who presents herself by the gesture of stepping forward. Despite the year’s difference in published dating, I believe the Maillol came first. Although difficult to see in photographs taken from the front, Matisse’s figure has the right leg decidedly in advance of the left. Where Maillol neatly trued the stumps of the smooth volumes of the legs, Matisse, in keeping with the character of his modeling, left them rough and omitted the feet entirely, making their support unstable by comparison with Maillol’s figure. Maillol made it look as if his figure was wading in water, an idea Matisse may have taken or used simultaneously in solving his problems of the feet in the reliefs of The Backs. For his sculpture students Matisse had employed the analogy, “Arms are like rolls of clay,” and in this work, as well as the misnamed The Dance, of 191014 (a figure who is standing with the weight carried on her straightened right leg), we can see the closeness of the legs to their sculptural origin as rolls of clay. Rudimentary as they are, the legs show the swinging action of the hip, and flexing of the knees, and the proportions of the latter area are still sufficient to house the joints. Both figures create a deceptive impression of Matisse capitulating to impulse, chance and technical insouciance. (Both were reworked.) Their provocative exaggerations in the legs indicate his delight and fascination with the potential pliability of the body’s solid form when transposed into clay.

Sculptors such as Rodin, Matisse and Maillol, who early in this century worked with the partial figure, soon discovered that with the separation of certain parts from the body such as the head and limbs, a new proportional basis could be set up which differed from the traditional one of referring each part to the figure’s total height. Rather than being measured by the eye against the figure intact, the artist could thicken or thin the torso and its parts against themselves (Lachaise was to do this spectacularly). Well aware that the absence of the head eliminated showing personality, but cognizant of how the torso could still reveal spirit, Matisse made his wonderful Torso With Head, of 1906. The proportions of the breasts make sense when read together with the stumps of the arms. Rather than being the results of African influence (in the shaping of the breasts and size of the buttocks), the former shows the gesture of an artist sure of himself with regard to succinctly suggesting anatomy, and the dimpled haunches came from careful observation of a living model, perhaps a Negro woman with large, protruding buttocks. The postural abandon of the figure, hardly an African derivative, which drives the body’s parts in all directions, forms a marvelous pendant to the self-enclosed, concentric gesture of the Small Torso (Crouching Nude), which I believe may have been done about the same time. (They parallel Rodin’s polarized gestures of maximal bodily extension and contraction found in The Prodigal Son and Crouching Woman.) Both are very small sculptures which, when held, invite the repetition of the pinching, gouging and caressing action of the artist’s fingers. (Sidney Geist might refer to this as “voyeurism of the hands.”) Torso With a Head mingles the model’s exuberance (Matisse called it la vie) and the artist’s voluptuousness, the daring of the pinched breasts with the patiently achieved lower torso.

One of Matisse’s most striking and little-known partial figures. is a four-inch-high woman’s Torso done about 1929. It shows how the partial-figure concept can affect the artist’s mental model of the human body to the extent that the part becomes the whole in conception and before execution. This small torso is so conceived and shaped as to discourage our imagining the addition of other parts of the body. In this Matisse separates from Rodin, whose partial and damaged figures invariably appear to be subtractive in origin and repairable, and brings his art to that of Brancusi and such of his sculptures as the Torso of a Youth. If the latter was known to Matisse and influenced him, it was also something to react against in terms of avoiding the direction of Brancusi’s analogizing. That of Matisse is entirely organic, and the form of the body less rationalized and more sensual. As with Brancusi’s sculpture, the configuration of Matisse’s Torso recommends a phallic allusion. In view of Matisse’s audacity in fusing different parts of the body into a suggestive synthesis (seen in the Seated Venus figures whose fusions of torso and breasts echo Brancusi’s fertile image of Leda) and his admitted voluptuous sentiments and passionate attitude towards the feminine body, this allusion is not surprising, despite its rarity according to what has been published of his art.


FOR A MAN WHO SAID that the expression he wanted in art was not that which was mirrored on the human face, and who was not interested in the superficial appearance of things, portraiture in sculpture might at first seem an unlikely activity. His lifelong commitment to portraits in a variety of media, however, further undermines the image of Matisse as disinterested in subject matter. As early as the 1893 medallion portrait, Matisse showed the talent for achieving a Renaissance-type likeness worthy of David d’Angers. His purchase of Rodin’s portrait bust of Rochefort in 1898, at a time when it was a considerable financial investment, is strong testimony not only for an early admiration of Rodin as a portraitist, but for a serious interest in learning more closely of what portrait sculpture could consist. None of Matisse’s modeled portraits resembles Rodin’s method of work in the Rochefort, and are distinguished more by their departure from such things as textural and shape discrepancies in the man’s hair, flesh and dress. But from Rodin, as well as Cézanne, Matisse, who did few portraits before 1900, could have become convinced that essential to portraiture was capturing the subject’s character, not his measurements. “One might say that the portrait photograph is sufficient. For anthropometry [in France the branch of the Criminal Investigation Department dealing with the measurement of individuals] yes, but for the artist and his research into the profound character of a face, it is otherwise.”15

Just as did Rodin, Matisse fervently believed that the artist should be a physiognomist and interpret a man’s true nature by means of his face. Cézanne, as well as Rodin, gave him models of prolonged and thoughtful reflection and reworking of the face in order to become aware of the emotional and psychological implications of what the features synthesized. Never having done commissioned portraits, Matisse did not have to risk, to his financial detriment, the displeasure of a sitter. While models, friends, or members of his family may have occasionally expressed critical views, Matisse had complete freedom to bring total candor and free sensibility to the faces he studied.

Several of Matisse’s portraits are surprisingly small, not only fitting easily into the hand, but suggesting their having been largely so .fashioned instead of entirely on sculpture stands. The smallest heads, those of his sons and daughters as infants or young children, display feeling through a smile, rare in his life-size works. Faithful to his own instructions as a teacher to exaggerate according to the age and character of the model, Matisse’s modeling of his children preserves the malleability of their heads, the indistinctness of the passages where the features merge with adjacent areas, as at the corners of the mouth and around the eyes. In the tiny heads that smile or verge on speaking, he has grasped how the mood suffuses through the entire face, giving the sculptures their relaxed and natural appearance.

If we take the smaller busts as a group, we can see the constancy and variety of Matisse’s portrait modes. By contrast with the Rochefort portrait, Matisse made it a point to use the hair as a frame or crown for the face, interacting with the shapes and directions of movement below it, thereby facilitating the reading of the entire head. With full confidence in his ability to observe and improvise, there is a total avoidance of mannerism or cliché in the forming of individual features. As with Rodin’s heads, no pair of eyes are the same, no nose, mouth or ear identical with any other in form or means of construction. The strong shape and protuberance of the nose is never disguised or played down, but accepted and accentuated by Matisse as essential to composition and personality. Late 19th-century portraits of women, such as Rodin’s marble “soul” portraits, tended to minimize this feature. Matisse not only varied the shapes of the noses; he would bend their axes and constantly rethink their means of attachment to the brow. The asymmetry which helps bring these heads to life owes much to the sculptor’s animation of the chin, cheek and brow areas, which he could not bring himself to consistently neutralize into smooth passages. (I do not sub: scribe to the view that this may have been an influence from Daumier’s caricatural portrait busts, as Matisse could have observed a similar attitude in the work of Rodin.) The modeled face by Matisse is comparable to one of his paintings of figures in a landscape. To achieve unity out of variety, he refused to consider a hierarchy of either features or figures, and the whole arrangement (intervals and brows) had to be expressive.

Thrown into shadow by the light of attention cast on the Jeanette series, is a superb small bust of a Young Girl With a Necklace of 1907. Recalling the great painted portrait of his wife in 1905, Woman With a Hat, is his use of the girl’s hair as a canopy for the head. In the absence of color and its expressive use by complementaries, Matisse fashioned reciprocal shapes so that the entire conception, from shoulders to hairdo, consists of rhythm and rhyme; necklace, jaw and pompadour are conjugates of each other, as are the cheekbones, eyes and flanking bulges of the hair style. (No painted portrait makes us as conscious of the facial bone structure.) What transforms the young girl into an almost hieratic, ancient Palmyrene grave effigy type is the thoughtful alignment of the central axis of the face, made up of the triangular pompadour, the strong pendular nose astride the mouth and chin, this last having its complementary hollow in the throat below. Matisse enforces continuity by exaggeration as seen in the upward divergence of the jaw (like the pelvic area in his torsos) which rises and expands until it flows into the hair. The forceful nose is crucial to the conception and, as much as the half-closed eyes, gives the image its dignity. The desired character of the girl is now manifest, along with the workings of Matisse’s intellect, as he meditated on the adolescent visage. At almost the same time that Brancusi was contemplating what was dispensable in the head, rationalizing away its features or fusing them with the broad planes of the face, Matisse was fiercely insisting upon their individuality, if not necessarily their resemblance to the original. For Brancusi the reformation of the head was to lead to a repression of the subject’s personality, while the heads of Matisse were essential not only to the credibility of a new formal completeness, but also to a more intense experience of the subject’s spirit.


THE PORTRAITS OF JEANETTE VADERIN, which Alfred Barr learned from the artist may have been done in one year at Issy-les-Moulineaux, were the first series of the same head in his portraiture. If they preceded the second version of The Back then they were the first series of any kind in his sculpture as a whole. The precedent in his paintings (Young Sailor, Le Luxe, Harmony in Red and Harmony in Blue) of reworking an idea until his thoughts crystallized into a final arrangement was probably more persuasive in undertaking the series than such external influences as Rodin’s much publicized serial investigations of models like Hanako. Both sculptors suffered through the trials of seeking a condensation not just of sensations, but of reflections and intuitions about how the subject should look.

Given her undistinguished facial conformation and convalescence from illness, Jeanne Vaderin was an unlikely candidate for Matisse’s greatest portrait effort: The dramatic changes and striking character of the last three versions of Jeanette cause one to hasten past the first two studies, which by themselves merit sympathetic attention. Jeanette I was in fact only the second life-size bust he had made, the first having been done in 1900, and part of his problem may have been to bring from the intervening smaller heads the same psychological density and richness of decorative effect. By looking at the second head in the series we can understand the sculptor’s criticism of his first effort. Jeanette I lacks the personal animation and sculptural expressiveness of her twin. The hair style was rearranged, possibly at the sculptor’s suggestion, the eyebrows made less obtrusive by being better integrated with the eye socket, brow and nose, and the eyes themselves are more responsive to light changes and mood evocation. The profile from the hairline to the tip of the nose becomes less undulating, and so forth. Frontally, however, Jeanette II lacks the vigorous scaled accents of the Young Girl With a Necklace. The increased overall animation did not result in sufficient distinctiveness of design. The foundations for the final design were there in the large orbits of the eyes, but the nose was visually, not anatomically, too meager. To begin to understand what was to happen in the next three works theories about “optic and haptic” sensibilities seem to raise more questions than they answer.16 As did Matisse, we should look at these faces in terms of his problem of treating radically diverse shapes which had to be brought into a more forceful and apparent formal unity without loss of character.

According to the records, carefully set down in Alfred Barr’s book, Jeanette III, as it has come to be known, should follow. But I have always had the suspicion that Jeanette IV might have come next because it would seem more logical as a transition from the second completely modeled head than an abortive excursion away from the so-called third and fifth portraits with their extensive structuring and use of a knife or wire tool for cutting clay. What tends to ground such flights of logic are the examples of Madeleine I and II, and Henriette II and III, where, broadly speaking, the rough follows the smooth. It is no secret that Jeanette V is taken from a plaster cast of Jeanette III, indicative of which predecessor the artist felt was most viable for the final bust. There is really only one sculptural “idea” emerging in Jeanette IV that was carried over into the last bust, but it was a crucial one that might have caused Matisse’s ideas to jell.

Madame Matisse told Alfred Barr that Jeanne did not pose after the second portrait. In Jeanette III Matisse was carrying out his admonition to his students, “To one’s work one must bring knowledge, much contemplation of the model . . . and the imagination to enrich what one sees. Close your eyes and hold the vision, and then do the work with your own sensibility.”17

Although a good likeness, Matisse may have felt that the second head was decoratively deficient by having too many undecided, indefinite shapes and an insufficiently explicit rhythm. He enlarged the bust form and modeled a 19th-century type pedestal, rearranged the hair (for his own work Matisse was an occasional milliner and hair stylist), thereby enlarging the field for redesigning, and giving the sculpture physical self-sufficiency. (Jeanette I lacks a neck and must be set directly upon a block. Matisse may also have felt that the bust was a more felicitous termination than the abrupt form of the neck.) By refashioning the hair he introduced three strong shapes to replace a single amorphous one, which could now be sensed by the viewer against the more forceful triad of eyes and nose below them. He rejected the possibility of symmetrical hair styling, perhaps to counter that of the features. The asymmetry of the base, preserved in the last three busts, complements positioning of the pompadour as well as activating the lower section. Rather than account for the dramatic and more decided reshaping of the eyes over the preceding version by haptic theories, or the influence of Cameroon masks, one can look at Matisse’s self-portrait of 1906, now in Copenhagen, and see his Cézanne-like restructuring of the eyelids and bone structure around his own right eye.18 “Everything must be constructed . . .” (This would not be the first instance of a sculptor remaking his subject into a semblance of his own image.) Coincident with the thickening and strengthening of the nose (“All things have their decided physical character . . .”) the eye orbits are now made to intrude into the skull above, something not found in the painted portraits. The necessity of strengthening the line of the mouth and its proportional increase were inevitable in terms of what transpired above. What happens to preserve Jeanette’s identity is the clarifying, but not eradicating, of her frontal facial contour, the curvature of the nose, the breadth between the eyes and their disparity of shape and glance. Transcending physical alterations is the woman’s coming into psychological focus.

Matisse’s greatness as a portraitist was shown in his dissatisfaction with so strong a portrait as his last word. For some unknown reason he threw aside in the next study all that had been so painstakingly earned. Perhaps it had been too painstaking, for he then proceeded to rapidly rework the head and thereby achieve a tighter integration of his parts; in short, to forget previous details and to work for broader masses and rhythms. The general gamut of accents is still present, but with far less nuance. The smile (a return to the original shape of the lips?) brings the curve of the mouth into concert with that of the grossly enlarged nose, chin and tapered bust contour. The change in facial expression forced the cheeks to swell upward making them, rather than the eyes, the obvious shapes to be read against those of the hair. Rough as it is, the modeled facture is more of a piece than that of the third bust. Having broken with the anatomical restraining form of the cranium over the eyes, he continued the invasion of the brow by the eye sockets. This time he increased the swell of the forehead directly above the nose. (The small early bust of A Young Girl of 1906 augurs this decision.) It is this step which next leads to a crucial fusion of nose, brow and pompadour, perhaps giving him the means and incentive to rework the third version into a more cogent portrait.

Working from a plaster cast of Jeanette Ill, Matisse cut away the hair, the back of the head, and the woman’s left eye. Presumably with clay, he rebuilt the new areas on the segmented plaster. The gourd or hand-mirror-like shape for the nose-brow-pompadour synthesized three different parts of the face into a single expressive form. The left side of the face was being rebuilt when Matisse slashed much of it away. He then stopped. Why?19 In the preceding works, starting with The Serf, Matisse would enforce the direction of a plane or firm a contour with his knife or wire tool for cutting clay. (This is true of the chins and busts of the two preceding Jeanette portraits.) The taller of the Two Negresses has had her left cheek similarly slashed. In the 1900 portrait, known as the Buste Ancien, when he had finished the closely studied modeling of the features he sliced off the mouth and did not disguise the surgery. When looking at Jeanette V, it helps not to focus just on the left eye, but to read the whole left side of her face against the sharply faceted neck and chest. (In the painting of Olga Merson of 1910, Matisse slashed an arc across what had been her completed torso in order to indicate the need for a stronger gesture of the body.)

In Rodin’s art there are heads that suffered from accidents, or contained impressions made from now departed limbs against which they rested (the head of the Crouching Woman, for example) but there was no comparable audacious cutting of the face as in Jeanette V. Rodin sometimes made a daring and unpredictable addition to the final portrait, as in the untempered rolls of clay inserted above Baudelaire’s right eye, or in the bridge of Balzac’s nose. As with Rodin, what Matisse did was no more an accidental or lucky stroke than what he had done in the Buste Ancien.

Unlike the stroke of a diamond cutter, his was an inspired device resulting from studied calculation of what was needed or not needed. Matisse did not exhibit his fifth bust until 1950, perhaps because he was apprehensive about how others would look at it, or because, like Rodin’s mingled fear and fascination with his mutilated La Terre, he preferred to live with it himself. That he didn’t destroy the bust is more revealing than his failing to exhibit it. What he said about not being content with a painting done in one sitting applies to this series: “I prefer to continue working on it so that later I may recognize it as a work of my mind.”20

Jeanette V is not only the most strongly designed of the series, but it emanates the most forceful personality. In 1947, Matisse wrote, “There is an inherent truth that must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the object to be represented. This is the only truth that matters.” That he had not lost himself in the formal problem of the last head is shown by the fact that with all the drastic changes he had made, he retained and reshaped the woman’s ears. Hadn’t he told his students, “Ingres said, ‘Never in drawing the head omit the ear.’ If I do not insist upon this I do remind you that the ear adds enormously to the character of the head, and that it is very important to express it carefully and fully.”?21


THE EXTENT AND MANNER in which Matisse reacted to Cubism is difficult to sharply define. In 1910 Matisse and Picasso knew each other and their work, but the older artist was publicly hostile to Cubism. Some have tried to explain the changes in Jeanette V by Matisse’s exposure to Picasso’s Head, which, even if made in 1910, preceded the former work. Assuming that Matisse saw Picasso’s sculpture before he had solved his problem, what would he have learned, what solution was offered? I suspect nothing and none. In the same way that Matisse used sculpture, Picasso was consolidating his ideas in the modeled portrait and getting the feel of how Cubism could be made and then looked at in the round. He was moving in the direction crucial to Cubism of interpreting the human by means that denied the possibility of imitation and which derived from the artist’s imagination. Picasso’s ideals were of conceptual elements employed instinctively, acting to produce reversible but inconstant inversions; discontinuity where the face had continuity, concavity for convexity and so on. The Head is a continuation from drawing and painting of reducing his means to straight and arched planes, now transposed into modeled ridges. The individuality of the features was being assimilated into a greater homogeneity of shapes and rhythms. The woman’s identity, character and mood are still present, but have receded behind the vigorous reworking of the total form. Both Picasso and Matisse were stressing expressiveness of execution. But Matisse was moving in other directions, avoiding systems, and was not as self-restricted in his modes as the younger artist at this particular time. Matisse was accentuating the features by exaggerating their individuality and reducing the number of elements and contrasts in his composition, thereby accelerating its readability. Jeanette’s assertive character and elegance thus comes through more strongly than Picasso’s more pensive subject.

Picasso’s work belongs to atmospheric Cubism and produces innumerable shifting shadows throughout the work, whereas Matisse places the eyes and nose in such strong relief that they remain visible and anchor the composition no matter what the lighting. He was for fusion and countability, not diffusion of innumerable accents. Picasso’s head, from hair to neck, is totally of a piece, completely modeled and having no gesture like that of the left side of Jeanette’s face. Picasso’s indented or inflected invasions of the woman’s bone structure were at that time less drastic than what Matisse did by cutting away and into the cranium of his sculptured head.


RECENTLY IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED that Matisse’s portrait nay have been influenced by Duchamp-Villon’s Maggy of 1911.22 We are not told specifically what could have influenced Matisse, and what the younger sculptor could have taught the older man. Maggy is a symmetrical head (minus ears) lacking the more audacious cranial incursions of Matisse’s art. There was nothing demonstrable in terms of shaping, facture, character analysis or composition that Matisse could have learned from this younger sculptor. (The large proportions for the nose have an older ancestry in Matisse’s art than in that of Duchamp-Villon.) Jeanette V is a more sophisticated conception and less dated than that of Maggy, despite contrary claims.23 Maggy belongs to a whole group of pre-World War I sculptures that evidence seductiveness and hard firm surfaces. The very conceptions of the bases and necks predict the differences of the two heads as a whole. Maggy has an almost Egyptian facial set, a remoteness and self-enclosed quality that is alien to the more assertive Jeanette V, and quite contrary to Matisse’s ideas of what constitutes the mystery of the face. In Maggy, both subject and artist have assumed an impersonality, a cool cerebral quality that undoubtedly chilled Matisse at the time when he was insisting upon the evidence of feeling in art. He also said that he discarded evidences of his own rationalization in portraiture, which polarizes his position in relation to that of Duchamp-Villon.


THE CLOSEST THAT MATISSE was to come to certain qualities in Duchamp-Villon’s portrait of Maggy was in the 1920s, with the second version of the portrait of Henriette. (There is some inconsistency in published chronologies of this series.) This is the most symmetrical and detached treatment of the face that Matisse ever displayed in sculpture, and it is the only one that approaches vacuity of facial expression. As with Rodin’s method of work, the first portrait in a series by Matisse often achieved strong physical resemblance. In this series, that of Henriette I has the strongest personal character. To paraphrase the words of Picasso, the more Matisse elaborated a portrait the less descriptive it was, and it became a vehicle of his own expression. It may have been the model’s nature that inspired the aloof quality, or that the woman’s bone structure and facial conformation suggested to Matisse the hardest, most intractable surface he had created. (The heads are also minus the ears.) Along with the Seated Nude and Reclining Nude series of the mid and late twenties, the Henriette trio may have met the artist’s need for a more objective, solid and austere mode to complement his paintings.

The cold formality of the second Henriette portrait reminds one of Lipchitz’s early 1920 heads of Berthe and Gertrude Stein. Ironically, for Lipchitz, these heads, after his previous Cubist crystallized forms, constituted a rehabilitation of the human form in his art. When Matisse moved from the second to the third version of Henriette, he may have sought to rehabilitate expressiveness in her face, but the result is a puzzle in terms of the character he sought. In their respective ways, both the heads by Lipchitz and Matisse may have been part of the widespread counter-modern reaction among the pre-war avant-garde artists during the twenties.


THE TIARI OF 1930, in which Matisse is supposed to have combined the idea of a head with a Tahitian flower he had seen, while it may suggest a concession to Surrealism, is a late flowering within his own art of his tendency to analogize. It is also a remembrance of the fusion of the central features of the head seen in Jeanette V. The format or general design of Tiari goes back to that of Young Girl With a Necklace of 1907. (In some photos Tiari wears an actual necklace.) This sculpture also reminds us of Matisse’s teaching references to the head as being like an egg. It is plausible that having seen Brancusi’s egg-like heads, Matisse was encouraged to dispense with the eyes and mouth to facilitate his metaphor. But the heads of his own Reclining Nudes of a few years previous had also been purified of features. What these late heads by Matisse gain in decorative splendor they lose in evidence of vigorous and passionate reformation and psychological depth with which the Jeanette heads are so charged. It was this great series that more than any other of his sculptures seems to embody Matisse’s drive to penetrate beneath the superficial appearance of things in favor of a more essential character, and to thereby give a more lasting interpretation of reality.

Albert Elsen



1. Robert Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, 1967, p. 248.

2. Alfred Barr, Matisse, His Art and Public, 1951, p. 139.

3. Raymond Echolier, Matisse, Ce Vivant, 1956, p. 79.

4. Barr, p. 550.

5. Henri Matisse, “Modernism and Tradition,” Studio, 1935, p. 258.

6. Barr, p. 550–551.

7. Robert Goldwater writes concerning Negro influence in Matisse’s sculpture, “In these figures its effect appears to have been only to turn Matisse toward a more marked punctuation and staccato emphasis of his own naturally smoother modeling and sense of arabesque.” (p. 228.) Matisse’s modalities show that smoother modeling was no more natural to him than rougher surfaces. This can be seen as early as the Madeleine series and as late as the Crucifixion and Standing Nude (Katia) of 1950.

8. Goldwater, ibid.

9. William Fagg and Margaret Plass, African Sculpture, 1964, p. 80–81.

10. Barr, p. 293.

11. See especially J. A. Schmoll gen. Eisenworth, Der Torso als Symbol and Form, 1954.

12. Escholier quotes Bourdelle speaking of ancient fragments in museums, “For the initiated, for he whose entire soul kneels in adoration before pure beauty, the masterpiece always exists in each fragment.” (p. 163.) Matisse also owned a beautiful Greek marble torso which he went to great pains to protect during the First World War.

13. Escholier, p. 189–190.

14. Reproduced on page 133 in Jean Leymarie, Herbert Read, William S. Lieberman, Henri Matisse, 1966.

15. Escholier, ibid.

16. A discussion of these theories and their relevance to Matisse’s work is given by Barr, p. 140–141. The difference between the educated hands of a professionally trained artist and those of blind persons is not taken up. These theories are not consistently applied to Matisse’s sculpture, and one wonders how Rodin’s sculpture would be comparably analyzed.

17. Barr, p. 550.

18. Alfred Barr took up this question of the protruding eyes with Dr. Eric P. Mosse, a psychiatrist, who, not having seen the self-portrait, concluded that Matisse may have unconsciously projected his own features into the faces of his subjects and “. . . in the act of concentrating to revive the inner image, the feeling of his own strained eyes is projected into the sculpture of the girl.” (Barr. p. 538.) On the other hand, Matisse himself observed that successive confrontations with the model led to the effacement of the first impressions and allowed him to see “the most important traits, the living substance of the work.” (Escholier, p. 192.)

19. Alfred Barr offers a number of interesting suggestions for the origin of this effect other than my own.

20. Barr, p. 120.

21. Barr, p. 551.

22. William Agee makes this suggestion in his and George Heard Hamilton’s Raymond Duchamp-Villon, 1967, p. 61. It is possible that Duchamp-Villon’s methods of evolving the head of Maggy were influenced by those of Matisse, instead of the reverse as Mr. Agee put it.

23. George Heard Hamilton writes regarding Maggy, “Beside it, Matisse’s only slightly earlier Jeanette V seems arbitrary and old fashioned.” Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880–1940, 1967, p. 175.