In September 1933, Pierre Bonnard wrote a letter congratulating his friend Henri Matisse on the successful installation of the mural Danse at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. “I am delighted, as I was present at the birth of your work, understood it, admired it as I watched its completion,” it read; “Really, painting is ‘something’ only provided one gives oneself up to it entirely.”

Indeed, Matisse had to battle mightily for the “art of balance, of purity and serenity” that he sought. Already in 1912 one of Matisse’s interviewers referred to him as a “much-ridiculed man.” His decade in Nice produced magnificent, aggressively collected easel pictures such as Odalisque with a Tambourine (1925–26), an arrangement of warm and cool greens around a vermilion...


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