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Seashell on Black Marble

Painting, 1940, 54×81 cm
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Description of the artwork «Seashell on Black Marble»

Matisse created the painting Seashell on Black Marble in 1940 under very difficult circumstances. The Nazis occupied a large part of France, and many people fled from Paris, where the bombing began. Matisse, together with his then companion Lydia Delektorskaya, was able to get on a crowded train to Bordeaux, and later move to Nice, where the artist had a house with a studio.

Exhausted by the divorce from Amélie and the division of property, shortly before the terrible events Matisse planned to go to Brazil to relax a bit among the colorful landscapes of South America and work in an environment where there were so many bright colors, consonant with his palette. Having already received a Brazilian visa, he was never able to leave the country. "I had to leave on July 8," the artist wrote to his son Pierre, "Having seen everything with my own eyes, I refused to go. I would feel like a deserter. If all that has value leaves France, what will be left of France?"

In Nice Matisse kept in a special enclosure three hundred exotic birds, which slightly dispelled the alarm of those days. But when by the autumn there started interruptions in the supply of food and goods, the artist had to start gradually selling out his colorful pets. Special food for them, which had previously been brought from the Netherlands, became impossible to find.

The artist also had interruptions with inspiration, especially when working with inanimate nature. It was difficult for him to concentrate on flowers, fruits or open windows because of constant anxiety about his relatives. "I feel a fear of starting work in face of objects whose animation has to come from me, from my own feelings," wrote Matisse to his son Pierre, "That's why I arranged with local movie-extra agency about sending me the most beautiful girls; the ones I don't use, I pay off with ten francs and let them go. They keep me there in the middle of my flowers and my fruit, with which I manage to make contact little by little almost without realising… Then all I have to do is to wait for the inspiration that cannot help but follow."

Perhaps that is why the still life Seashell on Black Marble is so strikingly different from those that Matisse created before: it is restrained, not overloaded with ornament or details and clearly giving off an anxious feeling. He was working on it for a long time, for thirty whole sessions, "trying to get rid of the unnecessary", but in the end was very pleased with the result, believing that this work was his "most expressive in terms of the coloristic solutions."
In 1952 Matisse presented the painting as a gift to Lydia Delektorskaya with the note "in gratitude and in connection with the twentieth anniversary of her faithful and devoted service, which made such a contribution to my work and so complemented it." Six years later, after the artist's death, she presented the Seashell on Black Marble to the Pushkin Museum.

Author: Natalia Azarenko
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About the artwork

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Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Still life

Style of art: Art Nouveau

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1940

Size: 54×81 cm

Artwork in selections: 12 selections

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