Matisse presumably painted the two paintings Nude with a White Scarf and Seated Nude concurrently, but he never finished the latter. The paintings could be viewed side by side in the exhibition.
While working on the painting Nude with a White Scarf Matisse’s changed the woman’s position. He did not make much effort to hide these changes, and so the working process becomes part of the final painting.
Changes to the painting
Matisse moved the woman’s body; to hide this move he used black paint to paint over the parts he had moved. The adjustment is visible to the right of the figure. Matisse’s changes to the position of the legs are also visible to the naked eye. Her left leg was originally extended further ahead. The right leg was originally pulled up closer to the upper body, but is now bent forward as if she were about to rise. This disrupts the overall sense of harmonious serenity that otherwise characterises the woman and makes the figure’s pose more dynamic.
Who came first?
At first glance you are most likely to think that Seated Nude is an unfinished variation on Nude with a White Scarf. But this cannot be the case. Isabelle Duvernois, a conservator with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, has established that the contours of Seated Nude can be made out underneath Nude with a White Scarf. On this basis Duvernois has concluded that Matisse probably began work on Seated Nude first.
An unfinished painting?
The exact relationship between Nude with a White Scarf and Seated Nude is not conclusively known. Perhaps he worked on the two paintings concurrently. We do not know how much progress Matisse had made on Nude with a White Scarf when he decided to abandon work on Seated Nude.
Nor do we know exactly how he envisioned this version. We cannot say for certain that he actively decided to abandon the painting. Perhaps he was simply interrupted in his work and then did not find occasion to complete it later. Whatever the case may be, the painting stayed in his studio in Issy-les-Moulineaux for a long time, and it appears in several paintings that feature the studio as subject matter. This could suggest that Matisse did not feel that he had finished working with the subject when he was interrupted in his work on Seated Nude. By keeping the paintings in plain sight every day Matisse gave himself the opportunity to reflect on the subject.
Hear about more works in the audio guide.
The text is based on Kasper Monrad’s article Model / Bathing Woman / Odalisque. The full article is available in the exhibition catalogue, where you can also explore much more of Matisse’s art in a total of 28 articles.
You can buy the book in the museum art bookshop.