Fifth State: Bathers by a River
Bathers X-radiograph: Fourth State

‹ Click to explore the fifth state of the painting

Fifth state,
early spring – November 1916

Matisse resumed work on Bathers by a River in the spring of 1916. He replaced the forested landscape and rippling waterfall of November 1913 with vertical registers of color as well as a bold, stylized leaf patterns. The artist scraped away and built up new layers of paint to produce more geometric figures of greater weight and permanence. He also reintroduced a wider range of colors — blue, green, and white — to the picture, especially in the background, while working and scumbling the paint around the figures. At this point, we see a far more animated and rigorously constructed composition that is distinguished by a pronounced definition of constituent parts as well as by their complex, dynamic integration.

Photograph of Bathers by a River by Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, showing the painting as it was in November 1916.

A photograph taken at the beginning of November 1916 records a new state of the painting and Matisse’s many changes since the last documented state in November of 1913. Comparing this to the 1913 photographs reveals the great amount of work done to transform the monumental painting. Gone was the monochromatic tonality and the narrative background of forested landscape and flowing waterfall; gone, too, was the method of modeling primarily with passages of pinks and grays.

The Moroccans, January–November 1916. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, gift and bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1964.

The fifth state of Bathers by a River is closely connected to other paintings Matisse was making around this time, especially The Moroccans. This large-scale scene demonstrates the artist’s new interest in structuring space and exploring the possibilities of the color black. Matisse used black in both works “as a force… to simplify the construction.” It is the principal agent of elimination, at once simplifying, dividing, and joining the compositions made of distinct parts.

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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