Henri Matisse. The Blue Eyes. 1935. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.259. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Katy Rothkopf, Senior Curator & Dept Head of European Painting & Sculpture
Henri Matisse’s small, but powerful, painting The Blue Eyes was created in 1935. It features an intimate view of Lydia Delectorskaya, a Russian woman who met the artist when she was hired as a nurse for his wife. Lydia began to model for the French master in 1935, later becoming his studio assistant, muse, and Matisse’s companion for the rest of his life.
In 1935, when The Blue Eyes was produced, Matisse was just starting to paint again after a three-year hiatus from making oil paintings. In the late 1920s, Matisse had received some criticism for producing so many decorative paintings of women in interiors, often dressed in exotic costumes. He decided to take a break, and travelled abroad, created his first illustrated book, as well as completed a major mural project for the Barnes Foundation outside of Philadelphia. When he returned to producing oil paintings in 1934, Matisse had a new sense of energy and excitement in his work. His exploration of space and his love of texture and pattern began to emerge in new ways.
During his hiatus, Matisse came to Baltimore to pay his condolences to Etta Cone, one of his most important collectors, whose sister Claribel had died the previous year. During that visit in 1930, he saw all of the wonderful pieces the Cone sisters had purchased for their collection, including his own works that he had not seen for a long time, as well as paintings by many of his great artistic heroes. After his visit Matisse and Etta became even closer friends. When the artist returned to making oil paintings in 1934, he began to make works with the Cone Collection in mind, wanting to ensure that Etta’s collection was as strong as it could be.
The Blue Eyes is a composition that seems very spontaneous and immediate, but, in fact, the artist worked on perfecting the pose several times. Matisse was very taken by this idea of a woman seated in a casual pose, leaning on the back of a chair with her head resting on her arms. While working on a drawing with a similar pose, Matisse took photographs of the work in progress and sent them to Etta. She was so taken with the images that she could not resist purchasing the related painting from her favorite artist.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.
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