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Young Sailor II by Henri Matisse

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Young Sailor II by Henri Matisse.

About the Work

Title :  Young Sailor II
Artist : Henri Émile Benoît Matisse (Le Cateau-Cambrésis 1869–1954 Nice)
Year : 1906
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions :  39 7/8 x 32 5/8 in. (101.3 x 82.9 cm)
Location : Metropolitan Museum of Art, Private collection

Young Sailor II (1906)
Henri Matisse
Image Courtesy : The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Who is the Young Sailor?

The title of the work says a lot about the work, and about the state of the mind of the artist when he undertook the painting. It is quite simply, ‘Young Sailor II’ ( the first version has softer edges and the colours are less vivid)

Painted at the height of his involvement with the Fauves, it is a brilliant capture of the youth and times of the young man. It is a snapshot of his simple, clear state of mind. The sitter was an eighteen-year-old fisherman, named Germain Augustin Barthélémy Montargès.

The candy pink background, Montargès is in his everyday wear – his fisherman’s garb: a navy blue cap, a pullover over a white undershirt and blue-and-pink striped jersey, baggy green pants, green-and-white checked socks, and sturdy, laced-up shoes with rubber soles. The softening of his face is deliberate and stands against the busy brush strokes of the deep blue sweater and the way his hands hang. The colouration and the expression, come together  to make this painting one of Matisse’s most attractive portraits in the Fauvist manner. The clarity of his face, flattened against the canvas, is in contrast to the rest of his body. The painting has a strange allure, it captures the youth of the boy, in mid motion as it were.

The Sailor’s face captured an expression of “almond-eyed charm verging on prettiness,” according to art historian Alfred H. Barr Jr.

Other Details

Matisse had painted his ‘Young Sailor; in Collioure, a small Mediterranean village near the Spanish border. It was  during Matisse’s “fauve summer.”

The first version of the painting is more figurative, while the second is held as more abstract and strategic. The painting was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, in 1998.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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