With Intérieur aux aubergines, a masterpiece of balance of form and color painted in 1911, Henri Matisse explored the ability of color to shape space. Where light tones surge toward the viewer's eye, the painting's dark colors seem to plunge into the depths of the canvas.
Historical context of the work
It was in a context of creative effervescence, stimulated by commissions of primary importance including The Pink Studio and The Painter's Family for Sergei Shchukin (Russian businessman and great collector of modern art), that Henri Matisse settled in Collioure from the end of August until mid-October 1911 : reunion with a founding place for the painter, witnessing the beginnings of Fauvism six years earlier, and essential retreat to complete, as he wrote in September 1911 in a letter to Ivan Morosov, " an important decorative work ".
Intérieur aux aubergines would thus become the third painting in the sequence of large " symphonic " interiors.
Henri Matisse, Intérieur aux aubergines (1911), Musée de Grenoble © Succession H. Matisse.
A decorative masterpiece
Intérieur aux aubergines marks a further step by Henri Matisse in developing his own definition of " decorative ".
The all-over effect, achieved through the arrangement of various ornamental motifs such as the screen, wallpaper, tablecloth, or curtain, is accentuated by the semifloral pattern in the forms of clematis, which covers the entire surface of the painting. Only a close reading of the work allows us to understand its complexity, which is, at first, engorged by its decorative character and profusion.
" The most radically decorative work he ever painted " (Fourcade, essay, 1974).
A dimensional game
The use of tempera, a dominant technique before the advent of oil painting, allowing great finesse and requiring careful and delicate preparation, here produces a very matte and textureless effect, which accentuates the impression of flatness of the painting.
Although the space thought up by Matisse is complex and saturated, the interlocking of the various elements in the surface is masterful, almost radical. The transition from a three-dimensional representation to the two-dimensional radicality of the work's surface is masterfully carried out by the painter, who thus renews the very notion of the painting. With this work, Matisse achieves the tour de force of substituting decorative space for the illusionistic space that had dominated Western painting for several centuries.
From illusionism to decorative
One of the key elements in the transition from illusionism to decorative lies in the use of superimposed screens that suggest the idea of depth. These screens follow one another, each time designating a very distinct reality, which provides the viewer with different possibilities of looking: the slant of the fireplace on the left, the reflection of the mirror and, above it, the empty frames, the table in front of the screen itself in front of the open door to the terrace, on the right the open window, and, all around, the floor and wall in a single surface dotted with the pattern of flower petals.
Acquisition by the Stein family
The painting was acquired in October 1911 by Sarah and Michael Stein, important collectors of modern art who were patrons of Henri Matisse and Picasso, just before Matisse left for Moscow. The painting was hung in their apartment on Rue Madame, which was regularly visited by the painter's most fervent admirers. The installation of this large-scale canvas in Paris allowed Matisse to masterfully assert his singularity within the avant-garde, at a time when his former Fauvist friends were moving toward Cubism or retreating to a more timidly post-impressionist painting.
Unfortunately, during the war, the Steins had to part with large pieces of their collection in preparation for a return to the United States. Matisse made them an offer for the painting in late 1916, and finally bought it back from them in November 1917 at the original price.
Donation of the work to the Musée de Grenoble
Matisse donated the painting in 1922 to the Musée de Grenoble, where Andry-Farcy, the museum's curator from 1919 to 1949, was beginning to assemble an important collection of modern art.
Extremely fragile due to the tempera technique, this work will almost never travel. It was, however, seen in Paris during the great retrospective of 1993, as well as in the exhibition " Matisse, like a novel " organized by the Centre Pompidou in 2020.
An inexhaustible source of inspiration
Intérieur aux aubergines was chosen to become the inspiration for our namesake collection, imagined in collaboration with Cristina Celestino. A particularly decorative work, it perfectly echoes the Italian designer's practice and the expression of her decorative universe.
From this collaboration come several pieces of furniture, accessories and textiles with assertive patterns and shapes.
Cristina Celestino's subtle interpretation of the work thus results in character pieces with strong aesthetic dimensions.
Elisa Vendramin, illustration for Maison Matisse