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Henri Matisse: Photographs of a painting in progress

Large Reclining Nude (also known as The Pink Nude) is a painting Matisse executed over a period of almost six months in 1935. He documented more than twenty states of the painting in progress with these black and white photographs. The photographs are not an artwork, but document the process of an artwork’s development. Although they do not show colour, they reveal a process of abstraction beginning with a comparatively timid image of a woman on a bed and developing towards a bold and extremely simplified state. The appearance of spontaneity in the final painting is revealed to be the outcome of a slow and thoughtful process.

Large Reclining Nude 1935, oil on canvas, 66 x 92.7cm

From the 1930s onwards Matisse made similar photographic records of many major paintings in progress. In an interview in 1945 he explained his purpose: “I work from feeling. I have my conception in my head, and I want to realise it… The photos taken in the course of the execution of the work permit me to know if the last conception conforms more to what I am after than the preceding ones, whether I have advanced or regressed.” (Flam, Matisse on Art, p.159)

The photographs have been reproduced in many books on the artist’s work. This video  shows them in sequence: