Related Story: READ Matisse in His Own Words
From the Closer Look in the Art Institute of Chicago app, available for iOS devices through the iTunes Store.

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Alvin Langdon Coburn. Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13 1913. Photograph courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, 1979:3924:0018.

Matisse wrote and spoke about Bathers by a River in letters and interviews. Read here about what he had to say about the painting as well as his disappointment at not being able to be more directly involved in World War I efforts.


I feel very strongly the tie between my earlier and my recent works. But I do not think exactly the way I thought yesterday. Or rather, my basic thought has not changed, but it has evolved, and my means of expression have followed. I do not repudiate any of my paintings, but there is not one of them that I would not redo differently, if I had it to redo. My destination is always the same, but I work out a different route to get there.

—Matisse, “Notes of a Painter,” 1908


I feel unwilling to do new pictures to explain the preceding ones . . . but want to do canvases that capture my emotions of the moment. I . . . find my independence under attack. . . . I do not believe I can work fruitfully and in the greatest liberty. —Matisse, writing from Spain to the artist Jean Biette, January 9, 1911 


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


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


I, who because of my age and the major’s decisions, have remained with my brushes, I am often sickened by all of the upheaval to which I am not contributing—and it seems to me that my place is not here. I work as much as I can . . . I can’t say that it is not a struggle—but it is not the real one.

—Matisse to Léonce Rosenberg, June 1, 1916 


When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when you have exploited the possibilities that lie in one direction, you must, when the time comes, change course, search for something new.

—Matisse, interview with Ragnar Hoppe, June 1919