My Matisse muse is inspired by the flamboyant and exuberant colour of Henri Matisse’s paintings and collages. He was a French artist, known for both his use of colour and his fluid draughtsmanship; and alongside Picasso, he is regarded as an artist who revolutionised art in the early twentieth century.
Henri Matisse painted several models during his life and my muse is based on Lydia Delectorskaya, his long lasting and final model and assistant. In this muse I have been guided by the vivacious colour and style of Matisse and not so much the photographic appearance of Lydia.
Lydia Delectorskaya was born on June 23, 1910 in Tomsk, southern Siberia. She experienced a tragic early life, losing both her parents to successive epidemics of Cholera and Typhus.
Orphaned at the age of 12 and an only child, Lydia was taken care of by her aunt. In 1917 they fled from the Russian revolution to Harbin, Manchuria in China. By 1913, Harbin had become an established Russian colony for the construction work on the China Eastern Railway.
Lydia was intelligent and had wanted to become a doctor like her father. She was accepted in the medical faculty of the Sorbonne Paris, but was deterred from attending due to the high fees charged to foreign students. She ended up penniless in Nice, southern France, barely surviving.
In autumn 1932 Lydia found employment in the Henri Matisse household as both a studio assistant and domestic help. She also took care of Madame Matisse, who had become weak and disabled with illness.
It was three years before Lydia modelled for Matisse, she had by then moved in and had become a member of the household. Feeling less shackled, she was able to observe and take an interest in Matisse’s work. She was 25 and Matisse was 65.
Over time Lydia and Matisse established a collaboration that gave her a new sense of purpose. By taking up the duties of studio manager, personal assistant and principal model, painting became central to her life.
Her close working partnership with Matisse eventually lead to a crisis in his marriage, he was given an ultimatum by his wife Amélie; “ It’s her, or me! ” She said, Matisse chose his wife and dismissed Lydia.
Lydia had insisted that their relationship was platonic and by several reports this appears to be true. She found solace and a beneficial, positive influence in the company of Matisse, whose reassuring manner was a welcome tonic to Lydia’s unsettled early life. Matisse’s wife was still jealous however, as the close bond between the pair, even if only professional or emotional, is often a stronger cause for jealousy than sex.
Madame Matisse, feeling betrayed left the house in 1939 after forty years of marriage and Lydia then resumed her work as Matisse’s studio assistant and companion.
Lydia stayed by Matisse’s side for the rest of his life; They braved war torn France and the German invasion together as two friends. Their close companionship kept Matisse active and able to work, as Lydia was his assistant and carer, devoted to him, supporting him in his later life’s work, when he was facing infirmity and failing health.
Lydia made it possible for Matisse to produce his final masterpieces, including the Vence Chapel and the coloured paper cutouts, now highly regarded examples of twentieth century modern art. She was his great muse, model, assistant, manager and companion, remaining by his side until the very end of his life.