Matisse’s Seated Young Woman in a Patterned Dress (1939)

Matisse's many charcoal drawings of seated models pose a challenge. The model often conveys little character and the setting is indeterminate. What then could generate meaning?

Knowing that an artist's androgynous mind collapses the distinction between himself and his female model, we can take for granted that the artist is the model here and the setting as so often in Matisse's art must be the studio of his mind, a fictive space where his perception of the external world and his inner life fuse into what he perceives as reality and truth. Matisse points out that we are all artists with studios in our minds.

Click next thumbnail to continue

Captions for image(s) above:

Matisse, Seated Young Woman in a Patterned Dress (1939) Charcoal on paper. Beyeler Collection, Basle

Click image to enlarge.

That is why we must become "Matisse". As artists we would recognize the checkered dress as a flat canvas squared up for a new composition, a common sight in the studio. The table, too, resembles a worktable like that between Matisse's legs. Thus she turns to the mirror while painting a "self-portrait" on an unseen canvas beyond the drawing's left edge. Her upper arm on the far side is positioned to hold a paintbrush if we ignore the forearms which intentionally confuse the scene. They turn inwards to hide the hands as though in actively using those hands she could not simultaneously depict them.

Click next thumbnail to continue
 

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Matisse, Seated Young Woman in a Patterned Dress (1939)  
R: Matisse, Self-portrait (1918) Image inverted. Oil on canvas.

Click image to enlarge.

The still-life on the worktable not only represents a palette but is a veiled image of the artist, his circular specs on either side of a caricatured nose, a mouth in the edge of the plate and his neat beard in the corner of the table. Matisse often exagerrated his facial features, as in the self-portrait at left. What allows us to recognize him in the still-life is the emphasis he so often places on his circular specs which, along with his red beard, became the iconic features of his face. 

Click next thumbnail to continue
 

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Matisse's Seated Young Woman in a Patterned Dress
R: Matisse, Self-portrait (1941) Sanguine chalk on paper. Private Collection

Click image to enlarge.

The model-as-artist then is flat like a picture, patterned like a bare canvas squared up for painting. She sits near her worktable, as Matisse himself did, checking her face in the mirror which is the surface we, like the real Matisse, look at. By turning the platter into a palette and then his own face Matisse suggests that his "painting" (the model) is made from elements of Matisse on his imaginary "palette." She as the artist, though, looks not at a real mirror but the surface of his and her androgynous mind.

Click next thumbnail to continue
 

Captions for image(s) above:

Matisse, Seated Young Woman in a Patterned Dress (1939) 

Click image to enlarge.

He forms the chair out of his name as well. At left, top and center, are the lower right-hand and lower left-hand corners of the drawing respectively. Near his signature (in top detail) Matisse drew a squiggle on the diagonal support of the chair as though it was an M. Near the lower left edge (center) the dress forms an S like the two in his signature (bottom) while the vertical lines repeated along the edge of the seat form I's and double T's. Not all the letters of his name are included; not all are needed. It's an image in his own mind anyway. 

Lastly, it may be that his two signatures on the sheet, below the model and above his "face", is meant to signal the above interpretation, that he is present twice.

For a similar example nearly two decades earlier, see Matisse's Two Women Playing Draughts.

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Lower right-hand corner of Matisse's Seated Young Woman.....
Center: Lower left-hand corner of Matisse's Seated Young Woman......
Bottom: Detail of signature

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 05 Sep 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.