This expressive abstract oil painting, which measures under one-and-a-half feet tall and less than two feet wide, depicts a group of nude figures in a park-like setting. A dotted orange and yellow trail leads from our lower left to the right hand side of the canvas, passing tall trees, a footpath to a distant lake, and several standing and lounging figures. The colors on display are vibrant and irregular. Patches of pink and violet sky are found at the top of the canvas, and blue swatches represent grass near the bottom. Dense orange-colored trees on the left and a stand of teal trees on the right feature indigo trunks and limbs. Some of the paint, including the dotted trail, is thick and textured, whereas the red used to outline the figures appears dry and sketch-like. The figures themselves are only vaguely representational. Many have been broken down into angular shapes, while others are a collection of lines or limbs that merely suggest a figure.
Henri Matisse
Sketch for "Le Bonheur de vivre” ("The Joy of Life”), 1905-1906

This work is the final known oil sketch for Matisse’s monumental landscape Le bonheur de vivre, now in the collection of the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania.

Its liberal and expressive use of color (also apparent in the finished painting) is characteristic of Fauvism, an early modernist movement that also emphasized flattened space and formal qualities such as line and brushwork. Matisse and other Fauvists applied these innovative methods to many traditional artistic subjects, including portraiture, landscape, and the still life.

Deemed the “climactic” work of Fauvism by one critic, the final version of Le bonheur de vivre differs greatly in scale from this study, for the painting is over four times as large. In style, the sketch looks toward Neo-Impressionism with its loose dabs of broken color, while the painting features flat expanses of color and a more linear treatment of the figures.

Although the sketch is a thoroughly modern picture, Matisse also drew from older artistic modes, including French academic painting and the iconography of Greek vases, to create this pastoral scene of carefree innocence and languid, pleasurable repose.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Sketch for "Le Bonheur de vivre” ("The Joy of Life”)
Artist name
Henri Matisse
Date created
oil on canvas
16 in. x 21 1/2 in. (40.64 cm x 54.61 cm)
Date Acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Bequest of Elise S. Haas
© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork Status
Not on view at this time.

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