Bathers by a River, 1916-17
87 x 154 inches
Oil on canvas
Art Instutute of Chicago
huge picture is one of the artist's most ambitious works at a time
when he abounded in ambition and seemed able, moreover, to bring
off almost everything he put his hand to. Here the color, as monochromatic
as it tends to be, rescues the whole from the monotony threatened
by the design and makes the monotony itself part of the triumph.
so much of Matisse's work in the two years before, the picture contains
echoes of Cubism – in the straight up-and-down lines of the main
design, and the clustered, parallel curves on the left, with their
counter-curves on the right that recall Gauguin; and in the handling
of anatomy, especially in the seated, wading bather upper left of
center, whose body is cut into cones and rectangles not all of which
belong to it. But it is very much Matisse's own kind of Cubism, and
the confusions somehow strengthen the whole in spite of themselves.
The alternation of vertical bands that make one plane of background
and foreground is certainly Matisse's invention, and offers as interesting
a solution to certain crucial problems of flat painting as anything
in orthodox Cubism.