In the fall of 1913, after a six-year hiatus, Matisse returned to the practice of printmaking. His output was more prolific than during earlier periods, when he had created a handful of drypoints, lithographs, and woodcuts. Through early 1917, he produced 8 lithographs, 66 drypoints and etchings, and at least 69 monotypes, creating the latter for the first and only time in his career. Their modest subjects reflected the world around him—everyday life in the studio and especially his family and friends—but the format, tools, and techniques he employed had a far greater impact on his work than we might at first expect.
Matisse’s resumption of printmaking coincides with a number of factors, including work on Bathers by a River. Given the physical demands of painting this canvas, the minimal effort and commitment required to make prints must have been a welcome rest, akin to his earlier practice of turning to sculpture as a respite from painting. Graphic media’s potential for monochromatic treatment and compositional reduction also complemented the path the artist was seeking at this time.
When Matisse relocated to his quai Saint-Michel studio, he also purchased a hand etching press to make his own prints. These works, produced in the same space as some of his most challenging new paintings, were soon deeply connected to their making. Matisse used his prints—and his monotypes in particular—to explore a possible change to a composition or to document the end of a state before beginning further alterations. This is likely the reason why in 1917, as he began to shift away from his experimental mode of working, he also stopped making prints, whose meaning and value to his practice at this time had been inestimable.