John Mcewen comments on Interior, Flowers and Parakeets
IN 1917, Matisse spent the winter in Nice for the first time. He would live there, part or most of the year, for the rest of his life. He soon paid his respects to Renoir at nearby Cagnes. Renoir was old, newly widowed and crippled by arthritis, but painting as devotedly as ever. Matisse was nervous. As a pioneer of Fauvism ( fauve meaning wild beast), he had overturned everything Renoir held dear. An accompanying friend wrote: ‘It was rather like Rubens in the role of ambassador presenting his credentials to some aged Pope.’ Matisse was deeply moved by the experience and friendship blossomed when he found Renoir a 17-year-old art student to model for him. On one visit, Renoir said that, however little he had achieved, he had at least produced something that was absolutely his own and that he liked Matisse for the same reason.
In autumn 1921, Matisse strengthened the Nice connection by forsaking hotels and renting a third-floor flat at 1, place Charles Félix, within a stone’s throw of the sea in the old town. He leased it for most of the 1920s and, later, took a second flat for his wife and visitors. In hotels, he had to be content with existing interiors—now, he could make his own. He filled the flat with flowers, mirrors, screens and decorative fabrics, often draped as hangings over empty picture frames. Endlessly transformed, it became his signature subject, the so-called ‘Nice Period’. It was a refuge, not least in 1924, made turbulent by the break-up of his son Pierre’s shortlived marriage. No doubt he was sustained by Renoir’s indomitable example.
Interior, Flowers and Parakeets, 1924, by Henri Matisse (1869–1954), 46in by 29in, The Baltimore Museum of Art, USA