Odalisque with a Tambourine

July 12, 2013

Henri Matisse, Odalisque with a Tambourine

Henri Matisse, Odalisque with a Tambourine

Here is another Matisse painting that I adore. I had the pleasure of seeing this gorgeous piece at the Portland Museum of Art’s exhibit A Taste for Modernism. I enjoyed many of the pieces, but of course this mistress pulled me in. I have seen this painting dozens of times in books or online. In person, it was difficult not to drool while seeing the strokes Matisse used to build this beautiful image.

As I steal one last longing look at the Odalisque, a woman comes up next to me. “You barely notice the tambourine,” she says, with a bit of a giggle in her voice. Is Matisse playing Where’s Waldo? with us by noting the tambourine in the title? The tambourine mimics a pillow. If it wasn’t mentioned in the title, I would think the tambourine to be a squished pillow. But Matisse connects the tambourine to the woman by surrounding it and her with a lush and sensuous red. He uses it as a tool to get us hunting for more in this painting, to bounce us back to the woman when our eyes begin to wander.

The poise in her body suggests music and movement. She is allowing us to see a moment of stillness; she has just finished playing and tosses the tambourine aside. Her body leans into itself, while her head tilts towards the tambourine. To me she says, “Would you like to play?” The light on her breast and belly invite us into her space, invite us to look at her body, be in her presence. Her drawn in legs end the invitation there, push us back up into her belly, breast, and face.

Matisse invites us to enjoy the beauty of her body, while noting her musical qualities. What really draws me in though is the way he paints with light, building her beautiful form with broad strokes. He breaks her down into simple parts to build her up into the beauty we behold.

Look. Listen. Respond.


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