Interior at Nice
The exhibition featured three paintings that showed the same hotel room. Matisse depicted his own hotel room three times, painting the light in a different manner on each occasion.
Matisse first travelled to Nice towards the end of 1917. In the years that followed he spent increasing lengths of time in the city, eventually relocating there permanently.
Nice gave him a much-needed respite from the demands of the Paris scene. The new surroundings and change in lifestyle gave him the opportunity to reflect on the intense artistic endeavours of recent years – and to try out a new direction.
The hotel room as motif
The three paintings were among the first painted after Matisse’s arrival in Nice. The subject is his hotel room: a simply furnished room with a window opening out towards the sea. However, the true theme of the paintings is not the room and its furnishings, but the issue of how the light-filled atmosphere of a room can be depicted. Indeed, a sudden burst of sunshine prompted him to paint these scenes in the first place. In a letter to his wife Amélie he says: "The weather … was most clement this morning, so I leapt towards my canvas and painted a view from my open window. I am not entirely displeased with it."
The first two versions, shown at the top of the page, are very similar. In both of them Matisse has employed a naturalistic idiom that comes close to reality as we see it. The greatest difference between the two images is the way in which the light is depicted. The first version shows the light flooding through the curtains, turning them a blinding, brilliant white that contrasts strongly with the blue sea and sky. In the second version, however, the light seems to penetrate into the entire room.
Making light with black
Soon after having painted the first two versions Matisse embarked on a third, but he ended up working on it for considerably longer. The result differed greatly from the first two paintings.
The painting makes a very different impression. The armchair has become angular, the contours coarser, and the fields of colour more saturated. Here, the light flooding the room in the other two paintings has been replaced by a dramatic effect of light and shadow. ”In that painting I use black as a colour of light,” said Matisse of his work.
The paintings show how Matisse was poised between depicting his subject matter in a naturalistic manner on the one hand and interpreting, simplifying, and reducing it on the other.
Hear about more works in the audio guide.
This text is based on Dorthe Aagesen’s article Painting Light. 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.