Matisse’s day-dreaming woman is one of nine ‘trigger’ works from the new DLA Piper Series: Constellations display, now open at Tate Liverpool. Gavin Delahunty, Head of Exhibitions and Displays, explores the dynamic impact of his painting style

Henri Matisse, 'The Inattentive Reader' 1919

Henri Matisse
The Inattentive Reader 1919
Oil on canvas
support: 730 x 924 mm frame: 922 x 1110 x 90 mm
Bequeathed by Montague Shearman through the Contemporary Art Society 1940© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2002

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From the start of his career, Matisse found great creative potential in returning to key themes and images. The Inattentive Reader is no exception, with its distinctive head-in-hand reader prefigured by earlier works such as The Reader, 1906, and Woman Reading, 1909, as well as appearing in later works such as Reader on a Black Background, 1939. Yet amongst this impressive set of readers, this daydreaming woman caught in a moment of mysterious reflection remains powerful.

In this painting Matisse combines a diverse array of objects and textiles: poppies in a glass vase, an oval gilded mirror, an upholstered tub chair, a pink carpet, and orange curtains neatly dressed and held in place with tiebacks. The whole painting has an optimistic rose-coloured tint, as if viewed through stained glass. This seems at odds with the troubled reader who — dressed in a Greco-Roman style pale blue tunic, complete with Japanese Geisha inspired dark eye-liner around the contours of her eyes — appears rather unhappy. By contrasting objects, colours, textures and styles, Matisse draws attention to an isolated individual who appears to be grappling with some inner conflict despite her salubrious surroundings.

DLA Piper Series: Constellations’ features more than one hundred works, many never seen before at Tate Liverpool and takes a fresh look at the links between artworks across time and location of origin. ‘Constellations’ examines the role of nine ‘trigger’ artworks displayed within groups or ‘constellations’ of other artworks from many periods in art history