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Ravenal, C.M. (1995). Henri Matisse—Love as Art: A Psychobiographical Study. Ann. Psychoanal., 23:199-251.

(1995). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 23:199-251

IV Applied Psychoanalysis

Henri Matisse—Love as Art: A Psychobiographical Study

Carol M. Ravenal, Ph.D.

Henri Matisse revealed a cherished desire in Notes of a Painter from 1908, “What I dream of is an art of balance, purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue” (Flam, 1978p. 38). Armchairs or couches, however, were considerably more comfortable, or disturbing, when filled with a succession of stimulating women, such as Odalisque with Magnolias, 1923 (Fig. 1). Themes of female harem slaves reinforce the image of this painter as an untroubled, sexually liberated individual. Apparently spontaneous color-filled paintings of women appear to be the byproducts of buoyant hedonism. In fact, no work was more labored, no activity more obsessive, no women more ambivalently loved, no artist more intermittently depressed than in the case of this avowed arrtist of joy, Henri Matisse.

Paintings of women reflect a life of familial tension, illicit passion, and/or disengagement. Even with stimulating young women, desire for fusion through visual scrutiny and sexual union was eventually followed by emotional separation as he turned to his own more gratifying creative transformations. Seductive delight of observing and experiencing tactility in flesh was ultimately aestheticized and transformed into the more reliable delight of engaging in tactility of paint.

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