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Four Female Muses Who Shaped Henri Matisse

The female figure dominated Henri Matisse’s work, and here are four key women whose likenesses were featured in the Rhythm and Meaning exhibition at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Gallery

Four Female Muses Who Shaped Henri Matisse
Portrait d’Ida Chagall (Portrait of Ida Chagall), 1948.
Pencil on paper, 55 x 43cm.
Private Collection ©Succession H. Matisse
  1. Amélie (Portrait of Madame Matisse, 1905, oil on canvas, 46cm x 38cm)

Henri Matisse met Amélie Parayre at a friend’s wedding in October 1897, and they were married three months later. He said at the time: “Mademoiselle, I love you dearly, but I shall always love painting more.”

Amélie is the subject of more than 100 of Matisse’s portraits, which were non-naturalistic and went beyond likeness, establishing his status as a leader of the avant-garde. She ran his studio and his household while raising their three children: sons Jean and Pierre, as well as Marguerite, Matisse’s daughter from a previous relationship (whom she adopted). Amélie and Matisse separated in 1939.

  1. Marguerite (Marguerite in a Leather Hat, 1914, oil on canvas, 82cm x 65cm)

Henri Matisse’s daughter, Marguerite, was born in 1894 to Caroline “Camille” Joblaud, one of Henri Matisse’s early models who was also his mistress. At the age of six, Marguerite fell ill with diphtheria and had an emergency tracheotomy. After that, she always wore a ribbon around her neck to hide the scar.

Henri Matisse and Marguerite were very close, and he valued her forthright and intelligent critiques of his work. She modelled for him frequently, and this striking portrait is typical of the light palette and distorted perspectives of his Fauvist (“wild beast”) works. Marguerite was active in the French resistance during World War II, and was captured, interrogated and tortured by Gestapo agents. She managed to escape, and survived the War. Also on display is a portrait of Henri Matisse that he made in 1945 as part of a series of prints sold to raise funds for people who had been active in the resistance.

  1. Lydia (Lydia, 1947, lithograph, 32.3cm x 33cm)

    Four Female Muses Who Shaped Henri Matisse
    Lydia, 1947. Lithograph, 32,3 x 33cm. Collection S Mazo ©Succession H. Matisse

Born in Siberia, Lydia Delectorskaya was orphaned at the age of 12 and fled revolution-era Russia. In 1932, the beautiful but penniless young refugee found work as a studio assistant and domestic worker in the Henri Matisse household in Nice. Lydia began modelling for Henri Matisse and also helped him manage the paper cutout system that became such an important technique in his later years.

Even though they were not lovers, she became indispensable to Henri Matisse, and their close relationship placed strain on his marriage. In 1938, a jealous Amélie gave Henri Matisse an ultimatum: her or Lydia. He chose his wife and dismissed Lydia. The very last portrait he drew on the day before he died was a ballpoint sketch of Lydia.

Four Female Muses Who Shaped Henri Matisse
Portrait d’Ida Chagall (Portrait of Ida Chagall), 1948. Pencil on paper, 55 x 43cm. Private Collection ©Succession H. Matisse
  1. Ida (Portrait of Ida Chagall, 1948, pencil on paper, 55cm x 43cm)

In 1948 Henri Matisse did a series of drawings of Ida Chagall, daughter of fellow artist Marc Chagall. He found her face captivating, writing to his son Pierre that he found that she had “a mobility of expression that runs over her face like the sun runs light and shadow across a field of oats under a slightly cloudy sky”.

This pencil drawing of Ida was reproduced opposite the title page of a book titled La femme sacrée (Sacred Woman) produced for a charity event in 1948. Marc Chagall designed the cover of the book that featured work by artists such as Jean Cocteau. Several other line drawings of Ida Chagall are on display in this exhibition, showing Henri Matisse’s mastery of the simple, spare but eloquent line.

The exhibition was co-curated by Patrice Deparpe, Director of the Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, and Federico Freschi, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.

Henri Matisse|Rhythm and Meaning was presented by Standard Bank in partnership with the Embassy of France in South Africa and the French Institute of South Africa, and with the support of the Musée départemental Matisse du Cateau-Cambrésis, Air France, Total and Air Liquide.

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