Don’t Eat the Models: Oysters and Wooden Armchair, by Henri Matisse

Barbara Stehle (former Lecturer, Interior Architecture)

Henri Matisse, Oysters and Wooden Armchair, 1943

The year is 1943. France is occupied by the Germans. The aging painter Henri Matisse has left Paris to settle in the South of France. In his studio, Villa Le Rêve (the dream), Matisse has arranged a composition of oysters and lemons, a glass and a bowl on a blue tablecloth.

Matisse loved oysters. He featured them often in his late still life paintings. In association with lemons, oysters represented the solar and carnal sensuality of the South of France.

It is close to lunchtime.

Matisse is still at the easel; the room he depicts is charged with energy. In it, the blue table offers a quiet pause, a peaceful sight against a vibrant background of red patterns on the yellow walls. Out the window, nature is made of broken shapes, the blinding effect of the midday light is strong. A wooden seat is set, upholstered and grand, awaiting the eater.

The painter will pause for lunch.

But these oysters are not on the menu. The artist had a particular attitude toward the food he painted—he refused to eat it. Matisse always worked in front of a live model, human or otherwise. He felt it would be strange to ingest his subjects.

These oysters will be sent back to the restaurant from which they were borrowed. New ones will be brought up to the studio later.

To this day, Oysters and Wooden Armchair offers the promise of a good meal—so rare in wartime. But for the painter, edible models gained an elevated status and were to be consumed only with the eyes.

Dr. Barbara Stehle is an independent scholar and founder of Art Intelligentsia.

  1. From the Editors
  2. A Room without a View: Reflections on Studio Practice from a Privileged Poor Chantal Feitosa
  3. Between the Battlements Jeremy Wolin
  4. Accessing Color: Dissecting the Harvard Art Museum’s Forbes Pigment Collection Makoto Kumasaka
  5. British Club Tattoos Nasser Alzayani
  6. Making Space: Creativity and Resilience in War-Time Sri Lanka Elizabeth Dean Hermann
  7. How to Become Trans: A Proposal for the Modern-Day Gender-Agnostic Asher White
  8. Making It Up: A Conversation with Kent Kleinman Wen Zhuang
  9. “In Peace”: A Conversation with Matthew Shenoda Mays Albaik
  10. Suburbia_hours.mov Nora Mayer
  11. Negative Spaces Emily Wright
  12. Centerfold: Urgency Lab
  13. Rise Up: The Sunrise Movement Takes Root in Rhode Island Irina V. Wang
  14. After Strand Nafis White and García Sinclair
  15. Soldiers of Love? Karen Schiff
  16. Decoding Ghosts Molly Hastings
  17. An Annotated Bibliography Eli Backer
  18. Jesus, Marilyn, and Britney: Relationships between Religion and Celebrity Culture Nina Yuchi
  19. The Social (Antique) Network: Empathy in the Age of Digital Antiquing Zola Anderson
  20. My Little Episodes Michael Brandes
  21. Seeking Fair Game on Hidden Fields Reilly Blum
  22. The Should Be Here Is Not Here Joss Liao
  23. Index of Agency Sophie Chien
  24. Don’t Eat the Models Barbara Stehle
  25. Hypothetical Drink Personality Test: Who Said What, and When? Eliza Chen
  26. Dear Arabic Mohammed Nassem
     ~> Fall 2018
     ~> 2017–2018