Textual description of firstImageUrl

Henri Matisse | Woman before an aquarium, 1922

Henri Matisse was fascinated by the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East.

In 1903 he visited an Islamic art exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; in 1910 he traveled to Munich for a major display of Islamic objects and then to Spain to see Moorish architecture.
He also collected brilliantly colored and richly ornamented textiles, pottery, and tiles.
It was, however, the physical experience of these lands that proved to have the greatest impact on Matisse's vision and creativity.

Henri Matisse | Young Woman before an Aquarium (Jeune fille devant un aquarium) | Between September 1921 and February 1922. | Art Institute of Chicago

In May 1906 and for long periods between January 1912 and February 1913, he traveled to North Africa.
There, he came to understand the unique quality of light and its effect on the perception of color and space.
Even a decade later, while Matisse lived in the southern French city of Nice, these experiences would continue to transform his work.

In Woman before an Aquarium, the paneled screen and goldfish are pictorial elements drawn from Matisse’s Moroccan journeys.
Moreover, the artist’s own transformation - the “new rhythm” of his inner vision that resulted from his travels - was responsible for the particular luminosity, cool palette, and intimate effect of this canvas.

Matisse was entranced by the golden light and sea-soaked atmosphere of Nice, and his paintings from this period demonstrate his newfound interest in an impressionistic naturalism that was not a rejection of his earlier work but rather an effort to infuse his previous style with a "human element". | Source: © Art Institute of Chicago

Henri Matisse at Nice, France

The fall of 1921 opened a new phase in [Matisse's] early Nice period.
In early September 1921, on his return from Etretat, where he had spent the summer, he decided to rent an apartment on the place Charles-Félix, an address that he would keep until 1938.
In this new environment, Matisse continued to address the female model in an interior.
Except for the new apartment, the device remained the same, with Henriette Darricarrère posing, looking outside, reading, playing violin, or just reclining like an odalisque.

Stillness is general in the paintings of this fall; objects are more accurately depicted than before, the point of view is closer, and even Darricarrère appears absorbed in her own thoughts.
The repeated motif of the studio, and the circulation of objects from one painting to another (the small round table, the violin, the Moorish screen, the goldfish bowl), contribute to the sense of intimacy and quiet characteristic of the period.
The continuing presence of these objects underlines the importance of duration in Matisse's working process: each is conducive to a specific memory and partakes differently in the visual and affective quality of the image.

The goldfish bowl first appeared in the artist's work during his second stay in Morocco, in 1912–13.
From [this] first appearance on, the motif of the goldfish bowl recurs in a number of Matisse's works, each time as a distant echo of the Moroccan episode and as an association with the Oriental theme of meditation.
The model's pose of absorbed contemplation of the goldfish bowl typifies the pervasive inactivity of Matisse's figures in the early 1920s.
Her apparent languor should not be taken for vacuity; rather, it evokes a state of meditative detachment, a hypnotic trance like that of the Arab men in the Moroccan café.

During the early Nice period, Matisse aspired to this kind of absorption in the act of creation: he began to work mainly with a limited series of repeated motifs, confined but for his landscapes to the space of the hotel room or studio.
The goldfish can also be interpreted as a metaphor for visual experience, and in particular as a way of representing the relation between the perceiving subject and external reality.

During the early Nice period, the nature of perceptual experience returned as a major preoccupation, as is shown by the repeated treatments of the window, a celebrated metaphor for the realistic conception of pictorial space.
The goldfish in the bowl appear to be another metaphor for the artist immersed in his mental space. | Source: © Claudine Grammont, Matisse in the Barnes Foundation