Skip to Main Content

La Musique

Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). La Musique, 1939. Oil on canvas, 45 3/8 x 45 3/8 inches (115.3 x 115.3 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1940 (RCA1940:13). © Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Henri Matisse

French, 1869-1954

La Musique, 1939

oil on canvas

support: 45 3/8 x 45 3/8 inches (115.25 x 115.25 cm); framed: 55 1/4 x 55 1/4 x 3 7/8 inches (140.34 x 140.34 x 9.84 cm)

Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1940

RCA1940:13

Collection Highlight

More Details

Inscriptions

signature, dated / lower right / Henri / Matisse 39

Provenance

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York;
May 27, 1940, purchased by the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo

Class

Paintings

Work Type

Oil painting

This information may change due to ongoing research. Glossary of Terms

Audio Stop for Picasso: The Artist and His Models

Verbal Description Audio

Henri Matisse

La Musique

Oil on canvas, made in 1939

This painting is four and a half feet tall by four and a half feet wide, a perfect square. The viewer’s gaze is met by two women seated on brightly pattered cushions on what may be a patio. A combination of interior and exterior space is suggested by a bold red background covered with a bright yellow grid, comprised of roughly 1 inch squares that fills the bottom two thirds of the painting. The top third implies an exterior space as this strip of space has a solid black background on top of which are large flat green tropical plant leaves. The woman on the right side of the painting holds a guitar, on a table top set at the bottom of the work in between both is an open music book.

This work is painted in strong, bold colors. The figures and objects are flattened and linear. While the colors feel very solid, portions of the painting reveal the artists fluid brushstrokes which often move in a systematic direction within the given shape that they fill.

This description will start with the woman holding the guitar. The top of her head rests roughly five inches from the top of the canvas just to the right of center. Her navy blue long sleeve, ankle length pant suit has a sharp v-neck which reveals a cool peach flesh tone. She has chin length, wavy black hair. A few simple black lines create her angled open eyes, thin high arching eyebrows, slender nose and closed lips. Her gaze seems to be focused on the viewer and the corners of her lips curve slightly upward. She has broad shoulders. Her oversized left hand cradles the neck of the guitar and her equally oversized right hand is cupped with her palm facing upward just below the open sound hole of the guitar as though she is strumming the strings. Her torso faces the viewer while she is seated in a bright red lawn chair with a vine and leaf pattern lightly defined by a thin white line. The back of the chair is evident behind her right arm. Her left leg is bent and her left foot rest on-top of the lawn chair, her nose and edge of her pants are out of the picture frame. Her right leg is slightly bent and her large arched foot touches the bottom edge of the canvas. The bottom edge of both pant legs are patterned with upward facing bright yellow triangles.

On the left side of the painting, the second woman’s face is similarly painted, although her gaze seems to look just past the viewer, her head is at the same height of the other woman’s elbow. She has shorter legs, equally oversized hands and sits on a black round cushion on the floor beside the red lawn chair. She sits on her left hip, her knees meet and her legs rest to her right side. Her feet are out of the picture frame as her ankles meet the bottom left hand corner of the work. She wears an ochre long sleeve knee length dress with a rounded neck line. Her legs are covered in warm orange tights. Her breasts are defined with two circular lines.

Music was a constant part of Henri Matisse’s life and an endless source of enjoyment and inspiration. He played the violin daily, and his dedication to rigorous structure and precise technique carried over to his artistic practice. One of Matisse’s goals was to create paintings that appeared effortless; however, the unity and rhythm he achieved in his compositions did not always come easy. In La Musique, two women seated in complementary poses underscore the artist’s ability to orchestrate ornamental pattern and vivid pigment while maintaining balance and simplicity. Yet, a series of eighteen photographs of the canvas in progress that Matisse took between March 17 and April 18, 1939, reveal his difficulty bringing the two main figures into harmony, so that neither’s voluminous shape dominated the overall image. Only after numerous intermediate steps was he finally able to tie the composition together and clarify its geometric structure.

Label from Matisse and the Art of Jazz, January 20–July 1, 2018

Back to Top