Maison Matisse's Journal

Maison Matisse’s
Journal

 

La Tristesse du Roi

Clear, musical and enigmatic all at once,
La Tristesse du Roi is still intriguing, almost 70 years after its creation.
A look back at one of his major works.

 

Henri Matisse, La Tristesse du Roi (1952).
Centre Pompidou - Musée national d'art moderne - Centre de création industrielle (Paris)
© Succession H. Matisse.
Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat

"A sad king, a charming dancer and a person strumming some sort of guitar, from which a flight of golden flying saucers has escaped, making their way around the top of the painting and then pile up near the dancer in movement." This is how Henri Matisse himself described La Tristesse du Roi. An accurate account, of course, but obviously a partial one.

What Matisse does not describe here is the biblical inspiration for a painting that could be a representation of Salome dancing for King Herod, or a tribute to Rembrandt's David playing the harp for Saul. But could the sad king be Matisse himself? And the painting his final self-portrait? Produced two years before the master's death in 1952, this cut-out gouache also tells the story of growing older, and the final extasy of a man in the twilight of his life.

A life which, in Matisse's case, was marked by an unbridled love of music, to the point where it permeated his entire oeuvre. Like many of the painter's works, which compare instruments and colors, La Tristesse du Roi expresses a profound musicality that extends beyond the depiction of a guitar. Between the correspondence between sounds and tones, the search for rhythm and harmony, this gouache is a true visual symphony. And a lively one at that!

La Tristesse du Roi , produced without a clear destination in mind in early 1952, was nevertheless one of the key works–along with Picasso's She-Goat–at the Salon de Mai held that year. It was the first gouache cut-out to join the French public collection during Matisse's lifetime. La Tristesse du Roi is the very incarnation of a major and immortal work late in the artist's career.