She also played a vital, almost maternal role in running Matisse’s chaotic household, and thus could seem quite grown-up in an era when childhood didn’t last that long. There is no indication that anything inappropriate happened during the painting sessions, at least by the lax standards then in place. And, according to the logic of Matisse’s art at that moment, it was absolutely necessary for him to take as a basis his naked Marguerite, and not some model brought from outside the family circle.
For some time now, Matisse had been trying to break down the boundaries between the “fine art” that dominated Europe’s elitist traditions – a type of fine art centered on the female nude – and the decorative objects and domestic spaces that seemed to matter. in many other cultures around the world. In several earlier works, Matisse portrayed his own radical new paintings as props in cozy domestic still lifes, aiming for “the productive ambiguity between the artistic and domestic realms that characterized Matisse’s art throughout his career,” according to the MoMA catalogue. .
In The Red Workshop, Matisse enhances the effect by portraying the entire artist’s studio as something closer to a bourgeois living room: outside) and instead fills his image with furniture, trinkets and framed paintings that you would find in Matisse’s cozy home nearby. There he supplied his children and wife for Shchukin’s earlier commission The Artist’s Family, which Matisse imagined hanging next to the Red Workshop when it arrived at his patron’s house. (Eventually, Shchukin abandoned the later “Studio” picture for reasons that are not entirely clear.)
In The Red Workshop, Matisse took the domesticated Marguerite from his family painting, identified there by the “daisies” on her dress, and translated her into his atelier’s elaborate nude, still recognizably adorned with daisies. That is, the central figure of Matisse’s family life plays a dual role as a symbol of the great European tradition. He tells us that domestic life is still relevant in the new picture, although art and its evolution may also be involved.
For all the sex and exuberant style of The Red Studio, Matisse imagined it might someday be a family dish. Judging by the serene pleasure that his painting gives us at MoMA, he succeeded.
Matisse: The Red Workshop
Through September 10 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, (212) 708-9400; Moma.org