Modernism and Tradition

I feel very strongly the tie between my earlier and my recent works. But I do not think exactly the way I thought yesterday. Or rather, my basic thought has not changed, but it has evolved, and my means of expression have followed. I do not repudiate any of my paintings, but there is not one of them that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo. My destination is always the same, but I work out a different route to get there.
—Matisse, “Notes of a Painter,” 1908

Although Matisse had already established a reputation as a member of the artistic vanguard by the time he painted the canvases in this gallery, his work negotiated sources that were both old and new. His artistic education lasted until he was 27 years old and culminated in study under Gustave Moreau, who sent his pupils to make copies after Old Master paintings in the Musée du Louvre by such artists as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and Jan Davidsz. de Heem. This approach encouraged students to avoid direct invention and to focus instead on the elements of construction. Matisse would pursue this same practice for his own works, reusing compositions in an effort to pare down forms to their most pure and meaningful state, or what he called in “Notes of a Painter,” his first published statement on his art, “a truer, more essential character.” This way of working also extended beyond his own creations, as he consistently revisited a range of poses and subjects that he gleaned from both mass-produced photographs of models and other sources.

It was also at this time that Matisse explored the subject of Arcadia, the imagined setting of much pastoral poetry and a powerful symbol of an idyllic Golden Age. For the artist and his peers, this paradise could be found in the south of France, in such sun-soaked coastal towns as Saint-Tropez and Collioure, where he traveled to paint in the early years of the 1900s and which provided artistic inspiration for his first major paintings, Luxe, calme, et volupté (1904–05; Musée d’ Orsay, Paris) and Le bonheur de vivre (1905–06; The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Penn.).