Sunday 31 October 2010


This post was originally written on 11th May, 2010.

BBC is currently running a series called "Modern Masters", presented and narrated by the enthusiastic art journalist Alastair Sooke. The first episode was on Andy Warhol, whose life story, repeated so many times in the media, is more than familiar to many people.

The second episode is on the French artist Henri Matisse. Towards the end of the show, when introducing Matisse’s late work, three sets of stained glass windows in the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, Sooke is moved to tears. The footage of the frail Matisse working is indeed very touching. Apart from this great piece of work, I am also happy to learn more about Matisse’s “Odalisque” paintings. According to the OED, an ‘odalisque’ is:
A female slave or concubine in a harem, esp. in the seraglio of the Sultan of Turkey (now hist.). In extended use: an exotic, sexually attractive woman; a representation of a sexually attractive figure in art.
Of the paintings on this subject, I find “Odalisque with Red Culottes” (which is in Musée Nazional d’Art Modern now — one of the museums in Paris we visited in November 2008 when we spent a weekend in that city) particularly alluring: the bold creases of the sitter’s panties are suggestive of the folds of the body part underneath. The woman is ‘waiting for sex or relaxing after it’ (says Sooke):

Odalisque with Red Culottes
The show reminded me of Matisse’s great talent — he’s a true modern master who continues to live in contemporary imagination through his artwork. Think, for example, Ikea, Miffy, Apple’s iPod advertising and the YSL Opium perfume ad (see below). We saw "The Snail" (1953), which Matisse created almost at the end of his life (he died in 1954), in Tate Modern last year. Now I want to see it again. The impact of seeing the genuine article before me, to this date, is still quite indescribable.

As promised, below is the YSL Opium Perfume ad featuring Sophie Dahl, the granddaughter of children’s author Roald Dahl. It is said that the concept and design of the ad has been inspired by Matisse’s exuberant “Odalisque” paintings. Of course, the model’s ghostly pale torso is nothing like the generally exotic tan-ness of Matisse’s sitters, but the provocativeness is similar, if not more:


1 comment:

  1. Bill said: Did you read the poem “Üsküdar” in a recent issue of New Yorker? That's where I prompted to learn the definition of odalisque. And gravid."


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