Henri Matisse worked from 1900 to 1910 with paintings and sculptures in parallel. In fact, over half his total output of sculptures stems from this period. Every now and then he would be directly inspired by his own sculptures when he painted, as is the case with The Bronze Figure. The painting’s principal component is the bronze sculpture Model in Repose I,which Matisse created a year before the painting. The sculpture has been placed on top of a modelling stand, and in the foreground there is a blue jug filled with red carnations. The lower part of a folding screen can be seen in the background, and from this small portion of a room we understand that we are in the artist’s studio. In The Bronze Figure, Matisse juggles with various artistic traditions and genres. The painting is a still life but also a painting of a human figure. It breaks with the tradition of painting a living model, even as it continues the classical motif of the naked woman, albeit in a sculptural design. The painting creatively thematizes the effects, traditions, and motifs of art.
Matisse’s artistic breakthrough was as the leader of the fauvists (Les Fauves), the coterie of artists who were the driving force behind the first avant-garde art movement of the twentieth century. The fauvists’ pictures were typified by their expressive colouring, fierce brushstrokes, and drastic simplification of reality. Matisse’s fauvist period was on the wane in 1908, but the painting The Bronze Figure continues his use of primary colours and radical simplification of the motif.
Text: Vibeke Waallann Hansen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0