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The evolution of Bathers by a River can be traced in the X-radiograph of the painting. Matisse began the canvas in March 1909, and as he worked on it through 1910, he modified his initially idyllic scene of four figures resting in a landscape, rendering them in bright colors and with tenser figural forms. In May 1913, the artist returned to the canvas, and by November of that year, he had transformed the Arcadian image into a Cubist-inspired scene described in a monochromatic palette. Three years later, he reinvented the scene again, segmenting the composition into large bands of color that reinforce the contours and geometric forms of the figures. He would work on the canvas again the following year, refining his last painting campaign and making subtle changes that reflected a new interest in a softer kind of light.

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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