The truth is that Painting is a thing that disappoints greatly. . . . I find scant satisfaction in it, it is the beginning of a very painful effort.
—Matisse to Charles Camoin, after November 15, 1913
Upon his return from Morocco, Matisse abruptly altered direction, pursuing an interest in formal structure that superceded his prior focus on color. Evidence of his attempt to forge a new path can be seen in the relatively few works—only three paintings—that he completed between May and December, and in his continued efforts on earlier projects such as Bathers by a River and Back. The three paintings that he did finish in this period—The Blue Window, Flowers and Ceramic Plate, and Portrait of Madame Matisse (The State Hermitage Museum)—were dominated by the color blue. This may have resulted from the artist’s recently renewed friendship with Picasso, whose Cubist paintings were characterized by a reduced, monochromatic palette of grays and tans. Working in a restrained range of colors allowed both the Cubists and Matisse to focus more fully on the construction—or deconstruction—of pictorial form. The color blue also had associations with interiority and mystical, psychological content thanks to the work of such Symbolist artists as Paul Gauguin and Odilon Redon, and the more contemporary Expressionist Wassily Kandinsky. Although Matisse was likely not interested in the moody or spiritual associations of blue for his own work, its connotations of an intense inner focus and reduction to the most significant and abstract elements might indeed have appealed to him.
By late fall, he expanded his search for new methods even further, reviving his interest in printmaking and completing a new state of Bathers by a River. At this point, Matisse returned to and furthered some of his “methods of modern construction,” moving toward a more geometric structure and allowing the process of making a work of art to show in its final appearance.