Henri Matisse is renowned for his contribution to modern painting, in particular for his radical use of colour. From the start of his career Matisse found great creative potential in repeating subjects; most frequently he depicted women and still life. The Inattentive Reader is an example of this, one of the distinctive head-in-hand readers to be found throughout his work from around 1906.
This daydreaming reader caught in a moment of mysterious reflection is a powerful image. Matisse’s was an art of interiority, in the sense of painting literal interiors as well as capturing the inner life of his sitters. Although the woman in this painting was probably a professional model, Matisse creates a sense of casual intimacy. The head-in-hand pose is traditionally associated with melancholy while the flowers and mirror are reminders of the transience of life.
In this work Matisse combines a diverse mix of objects and textiles. The painting has an optimistic rose-coloured tint as if bathed in the light from a coloured window pane. This seems at odds with the troubled reader who appears rather unhappy. Highly poetic, by contrasting objects, colours, textures and styles Matisse draws attention to an isolated individual in conflict with her internal and external world. The works in the wider constellation have been chosen for their correspondence with this inward, melancholic character, for their interest in domestic subject matter and their emphasis on colour, composition, naturalism and abstraction.