Interior with Phonograph, 1924 by Henri Matisse

Sometimes titled Still Life with Raised Curtain, certainly a more complete and focused description of the subject, this muted, sunlit interior provides a striking contrast to the monumental studio paintings of 1911. Once again the studio is empty of people, the model(s) dismissed. Only the artist is present, in a slight mirror image in the distance, visible just at the point where the curtain, employed to different effect in Moorish Screen, has been gathered up. There the fully spread curtain served as a foil for the two conversing models; here it is employed with a Vermeer-like intent of providing a picture within a picture. The theme, which in Matisse's art dates from the mid-1890s and which, even then, was at least partly derived from his study of the Dutch petits mattres, has never before been given us with such graceful, nuanced clarity. Diagram-matically the composition is a reversal of Vermeer's Love Letter. However, the light sources are complex: not only is there the light from the implied window at the left (whose panes cast their grid of shadows on the opposite wall at the right), but also the light from the window of the room in the distance, through which is framed still another view. It seems that Matisse never flagged in finding new variants of this key motif, a component of his repeated studio allegory. The still life in the foreground, consisting of a pineapple, some oranges and lemons, a flowered china bottle, and a vase of flowers, is set off by a red-and-white-striped cloth. Compared with the centerpiece of Still Life with Aubergines, this is another sort of luxurious opulence.

The play of the yellow lemons against the bronze tray and the pale yellow-orange hues of the pineapple is indicative of the artist's refined sensibility in search of ever different adventures in color. The powerful, muscular color contrasts of the Fauve period here give way to a restful adagio of discreetly matched rather than opposed hues. Notable also is the way in which the vase is here outlined in white, whereas in paintings of a more intense palette black was sometimes used to support the structure of objects. There may be an overall sense of nostalgia in this picture, but there is no question of Matisse returning to an earlier style; there is nothing comparable to this painting, though much that is parallel, in the range of his earlier work.