Fourth State: Bathers by a River
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Fourth state,
November 1913

Druet’s November 1913 photograph of Bathers by a River, recolorized to represent the appearance of the painting at the time

New imaging technology developed specifically for this project allowed us to reconstruct the palette of the canvas documented in Druet’s record of Bathers by a River. Information in the black-and-white archival photograph was correlated with color information from the palette of the finished painting, along with cross sections, paint losses, and earlier areas of the painting that Matisse left exposed. The resulting image enables us to appreciate how the artist tamped down the earlier layers of pinks, greens, and blues into a palette of mottled grays. What had once been an idyllic, pastel-colored work was now cool and reductive, dramatically transformed by new methods of abstracting, and building, and paring down form through the use of gray and black.

Gray Nude with Bracelet, 1913.

Gray Nude with Bracelet, 1913. Oil on canvas. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Steegmann Collection.

Gray Nude with Bracelet is related to the fourth state of Bathers by a River: the sitter’s pose recalls the angular second bather, who is seated beside the waterfall. In January 1914, Matisse spoke about the nature of the smaller canvas and suggested that by painting in gray he "cut off color" in order to preserve the delicacy and tenderness of the subject. The works also share a link to Cubism, with its play of opaque and transparent form.

Woman on a High Stool, January-April 1914.

Woman on a High Stool, January–April 1914. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, gift and bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1964.

Following his work on Bathers by a River, Matisse continued to explore the possibilities of monochome painting. Here the artist did not spontaneously flood the canvas with gray, but rather deliberately built it up from brighter colors to become gray as he gradually realized that the sentiment of the subject required it. We can see this in the clear indication of colors that were allowed to dry before Matisse painted the final composition.


Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917
Bathers by a River
Back: 1908-09, 1911(?)-13, 1913-16, c. 1931
A Great French Painter, Henri Matisse: A film from 1946
Art Institute of Chicago
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