Matisse was working on a sculpture, Reclining Nude I, when he accidentally damaged the piece. Before repairing it, he painted it in blue against a background of palm fronds. The nude is hard and angular, both a tribute to
Cézanne and to the sculpture Matisse saw in Algeria. She is also a deliberate response to nudes seen in the Paris Salon - ugly and hard rather than soft and pretty. This was the last
Matisse painting bought by Leo and Gertrude Stein.
Blue Nude is of a woman laying nude with one leg over the other and arm bent against her head. The strokes that were used while painting this piece were somewhat sketch like and you can see the process of applying paint to the canvas through this. Some of the most noticeable places that you can see this type of application is the shading on the inner side of her left breast and the dark lines around her thighs and face. This is a feature that falls into the category of avant-garde because it goes against the smooth soft lines that the academy strived for and was much more sketch like. The reason that they appreciated a more smooth finish to paintings is to give them a stronger sense of realism. This painting is very much the opposite of real. The color used to represent shadows and details on this woman are unusual and unrealistic. Along with this, some features were not portrayed in perfect detail such as her toes and fingers-again against the academy and more along the lines of avant-garde. The painting style being more sketch like and the subject not being in perfect detail is a bit unconventional as well. Another way that this painting portrays the avant-garde style is its depiction of the female nude. Rather than displaying a very stylized and soft image of a nude woman, Matisse created a much different and rougher portrayal. Her anatomy is also different than many of the nudes that we normally see. She seems to have definite muscle and this also takes away from the softness. There is a somewhat abstract feel to this piece because of the use of color along with the faint detail in the background. Many of these features fall into primitivism as well. The sketch like strokes may seem simpler and abstract background also add a simple feel to this piece. This is a characteristic of primitivism along with the abstraction that Matisse uses. Though we can guess that the background is of plants and flowers, it is hard to make out specific details and know for sure. Another feature that is more primitive is the exaggerated quality of this woman's body. She is fit and has muscle that is defined by dark blue and black lines that make them look very established. Though this is possible for women to look like, it is more common to see a softer shape.
Blue Nude seems to have angered a lot of people. After all, it was burned in effigy when the 1913 Armory Show moved to Chicago, a place that should have appreciated what Carl Sandburg called "broad shoulders" and other exaggerations of the flesh.
Some art critics relate Blue Nude to one of Gauguin's Nevermore. The reason that it is easy to see similarities in these two pieces is not only because they are both of nude women but because of their use of rich colors and some dark outlines. Both pieces are somewhat rustic and also simple. Matisse has used a more sketch like stroke and Gauguin has included more detail though some is also abstract like Matisse's.