La Tristesse du Roi

At once limpid, musical and enigmatic,
The King's Sorrow still intrigues, nearly 70 years after its creation.
A look back at a major work.


" The sad king, a charming dancer and a character strumming a kind of guitar from which escaped a flight of gold-colored flying saucers, circling the top of the composition to end up in a mass around the dancer in action. " That's how Henri Matisse described himself The Sadness of the King. An accurate account, of course, but obviously partial.

What Matisse does not say here is the biblical breath of a painting that could be a depiction of Salome dancing for King Herod, or a tribute to Rembrandt's David playing the harp in front of Saul . But wouldn't the sad king be Matisse himself ? And the canvas his very last self-portrait? Made two years before the master's death, in 1952, this gouache cutout tells, also, the old age and the ultimate beatitudes of a man in the twilight of his life.


A life that, in the case of Matisse, will have been marked by an immoderate love for music, to the point of irrigating all his work. Like many of the painter's paintings, who willingly compared instruments and colors, The Sadness of the King expresses a profound musicality that does not stop at the representation of a guitar. Between correspondence of sounds and tones, work on rhythm and search for harmony, the gouache becomes here a real visual symphony. And we're talking about a lively symphony !

Made without a precise destination in early 1952, La Tristesse du Roi was nonetheless one of the star works - alongside La Chèvre by Picasso - of the Salon de Mai held the same year. It was the first cut-out gouache to enter French public collections during Matisse's lifetime. The King's Sadness is the very embodiment of a painting that is at once late, major, and immortal.