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Nature morte au couteau noir

Henri Matisse

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Henri Matisse, 1896
Nature morte au couteau noir
Huile sur toile, 59 × 81 cm
Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts

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The black traces the fundamental axes - based on orthogonality - of the composition: knife placed parallel to the lower edge of the painting, bottle determining a vertical in its center. The white is attributed to the oblique: tablecloth, and knife at the edge of the table. The main colours of the spectrum are available in different shades of red, yellow, green and blue.

This early work reveals the contradictory influences of Cézanne and Renoir, but especially of Chardin, whom Matisse so admired and copied at the Louvre. Some pieces of bravery - the reflections in the glass, the pot and the tin basin - also testify to his interest in Dutch still life in the 17th century. Nature morte au couteau noir is an important milestone in the painter's journey from tonal values to pure colour in the years 1895-1900. Taking greasy touches from a pasty palette, Matisse releases the colour which gains in autonomy. "It is a painting that I consider very important in my work," the artist stated in 1951 in a letter to Ernest Manganel, then director of the Lausanne museum.

This painting is part of a series that includes, among others, Still Life in a pitcher (around 1896, Le Havre, Musée Malraux), and two Still Life in Schiedam (1896, Moscow, Musée Pouchkine ; 1896, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Musée Matisse). The table arranged obliquely is found in two contemporary works integrating still life into a scene of everyday life, in private collection: La waituse bretonne (1896), which shows the same tablecloth with a red border, and La Desserte (1897).

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