Large Reclining Nude (1935) is a composition painted by Henri Matisse, showing a nude figure reclining in an interior space furnished with a chair and a flower vase. Thus, there are several ‘states’ of the same painting, with the composition changing to reach the desired degree of geometry (Kozbelt, 2006). Today, Large Reclining Nude is considered a masterpiece of form and design and points to the interest of its author to use a live model to investigate both formal and emotional aspects of a human being’s figure. Throughout the process of perfecting the painting, the body of Matisse’s model, Lydia Delectorskaya, transformed from a proportionate one to an elongated torso with solid arms and legs and a head that seems to be disproportionately small for her body (Watt, 2010).
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As to the other formal elements, it is essential to mention the background of the figure. The blue and white resting place of the model is most likely a couch, the color, and pattern of which are intended to ensure that the figure stands out on the painting and is the focus of the composition. The rounded shapes painted in yellow, blow, and flesh-tone hues located above the model’s stomach appear to be a vase of flowers perched on a chair behind the sofa. The bright and thick strip of red that initially resembles a chair rail is actually the floor. The artist’s approach to composition is focused on contrast and minimum detail. For example, the patterns used for the couch and the wall are the same but slightly different in size and color choices. Therefore, the regularity of color, design, and the languid pose of the painting’s “protagonist” balance each other to create a sense of stability in the composition.
Large Reclining Nude can be used as a subject of exploring Matisse’s approaches to portraying the female gender. For example, the painter’s The Blue Nude: Souvenir of Biskra (1907), which was studied during class, depicts the female figure in a somewhat realistic way as compared to the Large Reclining Nude. According to Matisse himself, the ambivalence of a female form is combined with both desire and dread of feminine sexuality, which is more active in The Blue Nude than the Reclining Nude (Foster, Krauss, Bois, & Buchloh, 2005). The woman’s pose in The Blue Nude is similar to the one in Reclining Nude; however, Matisse pays more attention to accentuating the forms of the woman, her thighs, breasts, stomach, and face features.
In Reclining Nude, there is none of that: the body of a woman is relatively flat and two-dimensional despite the fact that the “womanly” form is preserved. The facial expression on the subject’s face is hard to read – her eyes may be closed, or the gaze may be directed somewhere in the distance. Despite the two-dimensionality of the female figure and the lack of detail, Reclining Nude is a painting that shows that Matisse respected the female body and acknowledged its various manifestations and interpretations. Thus, the portrayal of a woman by Matisse is vibrant, striking, and such that it is intended to capture the attention of a beholder. The boldness of the female form is reinforced by the contrast of colors, which makes the painting unique as it reached a balance between color and composition.
Foster, H., Krauss, R., Bois, Y-A., & Buchloh, B. (2005). Art since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.
Kozbelt, A. (2006). Dynamic evaluation of Matisse’s 1935 Large Reclining Nude. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 24(2), 119-137.
Watt, G. (2010). Lydia Delectorskaya. The British Journal of General Practice, 60(577), 626-627.
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