It is said that a visit to Matisse’s studio was like walking into one of his paintings. The interiors in his work are not invented, but a real self-contained world created by the artist in his own studio-home. Packed with ornate furniture, densely patterned textiles, vases and sculpture, it is no surprise that many of the objects in Matisse’s collection made their way into his painting. Just a small selection of them can be seen in ‘The Pink Studio’. Like many of his works, the title identifies colour as one of its subjects.
The nude figure fits into these elaborate ‘sets’ like any other object in the studio, challenging the convention that the human figure should be the focal point of the artwork. Whilst we may not think twice about placing a figure on an empty white page, Matisse believed that ‘the subject of a picture and its background have the same value … only the pattern is important.’ In this way, Matisse sought to express the full experience of his model’s session in the studio. For ‘Odalisque, Harmony in Red’, he created an arrangement of oriental patterned fabrics, and furniture, reminiscent of the Moorish interiors he had seen in Morocco. Like a continuation of his studio, he dressed his model in exotic jewellery and drapery which integrate her with the decorative surroundings.
Matisse’s depiction of the female nude challenged traditional Western attitudes to the human form, overwriting naturalism (representation of the subject in a natural setting) and idealisation with the abstract language of African sculpture, of which he had at least twenty examples in his collection. This influence can be seen in the simplified, sculptural figure of ‘Pink Nude, Red interior’. Matisse believed that this new artistic language enabled him to express deeper and more enduring meanings about the body than conventional beauty.