Room 10 Room 10

The paintings in this room focus again on the female form, continuing the exchange begun in the previous section. Arguably the most Matissean painting is one by Picasso, Woman in a Yellow Armchair 1932, with its curving lines, expanses of flat colour and pattern. But there are elements that are distinctively Picasso. The painting is a coded vanitas - the mirror in the corner suggesting that the young woman’s beauty will fade, the watch on her wrist a wry reminder of time passing. Like the painting in the previous room, the woman depicted is Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. While in the Picasso the figure is centred, in Matisse’s painting Asia 1946 a dark-haired woman sprawls across the canvas, almost escaping it. 

The other painting by Matisse in this group, Woman with a Veil 1927, harks back to his earlier engagement with Cubism. The woman portrayed in this instance is Henriette Darricarrère, Matisse’s principal model throughout the 1920s. It is the last painting for which she posed, and its melancholy mood suggests a leave-taking. Besides the Cubist planes of the face, Matisse adapts other elements from Picasso. The striking harlequin wrap, coloured half green and half red, divides the picture in two, echoing Picasso’s trope of doubling. The shadowed portion on the right of the face is so strongly delineated that it almost becomes a simultaneous face and profile, another of Picasso’s principal motifs. The figure is also now firmly centralised and solidly modelled, sculpted in a manner similar to Picasso’s earlier relief paintings. 

The concept of the ‘sculptor-painter ‘is one that runs throughout both their careers. Having established ideas in their paintings, they would often confirm and conclude them in their sculptures, a process that can be traced in the group of sculpted heads shown here and in the adjoining rooms. 

The earliest of these sculptures is Picasso’s Head of a Woman (Fernande) 1909, a portrait of his companion Fernande Olivier. Its jagged, crystalline surfaces relate the work to his Cubist paintings of the period. As Picasso observed: ‘Sculpture is the best comment that a painter can make on a painting. ‘Marie-Thérèse is the subject of two heads of 1931, her strong profile encrypted in fleshy, tuberous forms. Picasso may have been influenced by a series of sculptures made by Matisse between 1910 and 1916. 

Known as the Jeanette heads, they portray a young woman called Jeanne Vaderin. Starting from a relatively naturalistic version, the heads became progressively more abstract and bulbous, as Matisse exaggerated and distorted individual features. This may, in turn, reflect Picasso’s innovations in the Cubist sculpture of Fernande. Between 1925-9 Matisse made another series of heads using Henriette Darricarrère as his model. Henriette is reduced to a series of ovoids - rounded head, pear-shaped face, oval eyes - giving the head a monumental, classical quality. This impulse towards simplified geometric shapes is one of the things that connects Matisse’s sculptures to his paintings of the same date.