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Bathers by a River

A work made of oil on canvas.
© 2018 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.


1909–10, 1913, and 1916–1917


Henri Matisse
French, 1869–1954

About this artwork

Henri Matisse considered Bathers by a River to be one of the five most “pivotal” works of his career, and with good reason: it facilitated the evolution of the artist’s style over the course of nearly a decade. Originally, the work was related to a 1909 commission by the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin, who wanted two large canvases to decorate the staircase of his Moscow home. Matisse proposed three pastoral images, though Shchukin decided to purchase only two works, Dance II and Music (both State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg).

Four years later, Matisse returned to this canvas, the rejected third image, altering the idyllic scene and changing the pastel palette to reflect his new interest in Cubism. He reordered the composition, making the figures more columnar, with faceless, ovoid heads. Over the next years, Matisse transformed the background into four vertical bands and turned the formerly blue river into a thick black vertical band. With its restricted palette and severely abstracted forms, Bathers by a River is far removed from Dance II and Music, which convey a graceful lyricism. The sobriety and hint of danger in Bathers by a River may in part reflect the artist’s concerns during the terrible, war-torn period during which he completed it.

On View

Modern Art, Gallery 391


Henri Matisse


Bathers by a River






Oil on canvas


Signed, l.l.: "Henri-Matisse"


260 × 392 cm (102 1/2 × 154 3/16 in.)

Credit Line

Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

Reference Number



© 2018 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Extended information about this artwork

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