Henri Matisse’s The Moorish Screen: art like a good armchair
The Moorish Screen inevitably calls to mind that famed Matisse quote about art being like a good armchair where “the businessman as well as the man of letters” can relax.
It is one of his rare depictions of women in the fashions of the day: his daughter and a favorite model, Henriette Darricarrère. They make a genteel pair, surrounded by the gorgeously patterned decor of a well-travelled, bourgeois, bohemian family.
But if Matisse preferred domestic serenity to the violence and politics of his rival Picasso, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t interested in revolution. It’s just that his upheaval was all about what you did with paint.
This is an early work from his prolific Nice period, when he left a starker, more abstract style for one where the eroticism erupts in pattern as much as in flesh. It’s typified by images of women, in harem pants or falling out of flimsy wraps. Yet they’re also sites of experimentation, and an exercise in joy after the horrors of war.
Henri Matisse painted The Moorish Screen shortly after he moved to a third-floor apartment at 1, Place Charles-Félix in Nice, France, in the fall of 1921. The two fashionably dressed young women, who can be identified as the artist's daughter Marguerite and his favorite model Henriette Darricarrère, are contrasted with the iridescent blue and green latticed moucharabieh (Moorish screen), which divided the studio into two large rooms. A bedroom with floral patterned wallpaper is visible in the background, while in the sitting room Darricarrère is shown seated in an armchair, seemingly in conversation with Marguerite, who leans casually on the mantelpiece.