Derain, Braque, Camoin, Puy, are at the front risking their lives. . . . We are sick of staying at home. . . . How can we serve our country?
—Matisse to Marcel Sembat, on behalf of himself and Albert Marquet, late 1914
Matisse’s unrivaled experimentation and daring achievement in the first half of 1914 would come to a dramatic and abrupt end in the summer of that year. Within a few weeks in August, France was mobilized, the artist’s childhood home in the north was occupied, and his house in Issy was requisitioned by the French military. Those around him—family as well as friends such as the critic Guillaume Apollinaire and artist Charles Camoin—departed for the front or, like the dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, were identified as enemy aliens. Matisse was prepared to be called up for military duty—he even purchased boots in anticipation—but when he received his papers, he was sick with influenza and failed his medical examination. Although he appealed to reverse the decision, his application was rejected on the grounds of his age (he was 44) and his weak heart.
Not surprisingly, the period between August 1914 and the end of 1915 was full of stops and starts, interruptions and returns, as the artist tried to negotiate the dual challenges of attending to the developments of the war and satisfying his own creative ambitions. When he did have time to make new work, he returned to familiar subjects—still lifes, portraits, and open windows or doors. As had been the case in his earlier bathers compositions, confining his experiments to such motifs provided him with ready-made themes that he could easily set down onto canvas and then push forward when time allowed. By the end of this period, Matisse had clearly found his way, encouraged by the possibility of finally initiating his long-considered painting on the theme of Morocco; he had transcended his early wartime experiences and found a way to make modern pictures under the most difficult circumstances.