Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
"He knows what he is doing and he manages to do it the first time." Pierre Bonnard, the first owner of La fenêtre ouverte, on Matisse.
The most apt symbol for early modernism, the momentous transformation that took place in the arts during the first decade of the 20th century, is perhaps the window, and particularly as Matisse painted the window of his room in Collioure during the Fauve summer of 1905 (fig. 1). With shutters opened and thrown back, the dazzling light of a new day streams in and sets the room ablaze with color, as fresh sea breezes aerate and refresh interior spaces. The window in this iconic painting represents the momentous opening to a new way of painting, a gateway to possibilities in expression that Matisse and other artists had just begun to explore. Color became form.
It is particularly notable that the present work, which shows Collioure looking inland and dates from 1911, Matisse's annus mirabilis of paintings of interiors, was acquired shortly after it execution by Pierre Bonnard, in whose collection it remained until his death. Not only was the motif of the open window to assume a pivotal position in Bonnard's output, but it was following the acquisition of the present painting that Bonnard's palette began to take on the higher-keyed, more intense and expressive character that has been so highly valued by subsequent generations of artists. Bonnard recalled visiting Matisse's studio either in 1910 or 1911 and asking him why he painted his figures all one color, uninflected and without any tonal modeling, to which Matisse replied, "I know the sky throws a blue reflection on the figures and the grass a green one. Perhaps I should indicate some light and shade, but what's the use complicating my problem. It's of no value in the picture and would interfere with what I want to say" (quoted in Bonnard, exh. cat. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 1984, p. 21).
The years since the 1905 Salon d'Automne had been a period of intense labor for Matisse. Following on from the execution of his masterpieces Le bonheur de vivre in 1906 (The Barnes Foundation, Merion Station, PA) and Nu bleu of 1907 (The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection), and then the so-called Arcadian series of 1907-1908, including the two version of Le Luxe (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen) and the Baigneuse à la tortue (The St Louis Art Museum), Matisse signed a contract with the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Pairs in September 1909. His reputation had grown enormously and he found his most attentive and demanding patrons overseas. Collectors from Germany, the United States and Great Britain vied for attention. However it was the Russians Shchukin and Morosov who were the dominant forces.
At the beginning of 1911, Shchukin wrote to Matisse to request a major commission for his Moscow home, "asking for three decorative panels on allegorical themes ('What do you think of youth, maturity and old age, or spring, summer and winter?'). By the time the Russian wrote again to enquire tentatively about his panels at the end of March, Matisse was already working on the first big canvas in a sequence that might have initially fitted the spring/summer/winter theme. L'atelier rose [The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; fig. 2] is full of cool spring sunlight that washes evenly across the canvas, turning the studio's white walls and wooden floor pale pink, flattening them out and incorporating them in a decorative scheme of sharp greens, dark blues and ochres" (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005, p. 80). L'atelier rose, which relates to the present work in its formal arrangement of a busy studio, its sparing paint application and overall warm luminosity, would be the first in a sequence of four stunning masterpieces-called "the symphonic interiors" by Alfred Barr--executed over the following few months. La famille du peintre (The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) was next, to be followed by L'atelier rouge (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), made on his return to Issy in the fall. Shortly before Matisse journeyed to Collioure in the summer of 1911, Shchukin paid him a visit in Issy, confirming the purchase of I'atelier rose and La famille du peintre.
The third painting in the sequence is Intérieur aux aubergines (Musée de Grenoble; fig. 3). Like the present work, it was painted in Collioure during the summer of 1911, and, like the present work, it pulses with the atmosphere of the Midi. The two works share the same warmly accented palette and view through the window, though the view of the hills is more complex and stridently colored in the present work. The aubergines of the Grenoble pictures title introduce a quintessentially southern element, while the unoccupied wicker-seated chair in La fenêtre ouverte brings to mind the empty chair memorialized by Van Gogh in Arles. An element the present work shares with "l'atelier rose--as well as with the later L'atelier rouge--is the inclusion in both works of what appears to be a version of the le Luxe subject from 1907. In the present work it appears to be the Paris version, le Luxe I, with its less saturated palette and cooler foreground, the curve of which echoes the swell of the hills seen through the window.
Matisse did not visit Collioure again until 1914. At this time he again rented the studio of Marie Astié and there he painted his famous Porte-fenêtre à Collioure (Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; fig. 4). As last year's Matisse exhibition in Chicago showed, the years leading up to 1913 were of crucial importance in shaping the artist's most avant-garde period. In discussing Matisse's work from the years 1913-1917, the exhibition's curators have commented: "The austere geometry of his art in those years has seemed to some viewers unlike anything he had done before, as if a different artist had suddenly appeared. But what happened between 1910 and 1913 not only formed the triumphant conclusion of Matisse's fixation on construction through color, but also laid the foundation for the strength of what followed, and for certain very specific preoccupations that accompanied it" (S. D'Alessandro and J. Elderfield, Matisse, Radical Invention: 1913-1917, exh. cat. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2010, p. 110).
Blum has mentioned that Matissse "had a loving and intimate relation to every room in which he painted, and derived inspiration from constantly studying its parts" (op. cit., p. 15). The room, it walls and its windows were not, to his mind, boundaries or a place of limitation and confinement. In Matisse's paintings rooms are places filled with light, whose source is the window, whose panes facilitate the passage of light, in a way akin to the human sight. For Matisse the painter, moreover, the idea of the room was inseparable from its use as his studio; the windows in his studio rooms allowed him to view the world as if in a frame, or in an artist's perspective grid. The window is the opening to the world that is there, but also to the realms of the imagination and creativity. "Matisse's windows look out on subjects that speak to the beauty of creation, " Blum has written. "Although they repeatedly join two worlds, those of man and nature, Matisse insisted that the exterior and the interior--the room and its view--made up a single unified whole" (ibid., p. 13).