(Photo by John Wronn; Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund; Artists Rights Society
Painted as war raged, ‘The Piano
Lesson’ is both sensuous and severe
Feb. 14, 202312
Henri Matisse painted this inexpressibly moving painting in the summer of 1916, in the early days of the Somme offensive, one of the deadliest battles in history.
Matisse’s mother was stranded behind enemy lines in his hometown, Bohain-en-Vermandois, France. His brother was sent to Germany as a prisoner of war. Henri had tried to enlist, twice, but he was rejected: too old (46) and a weak heart. Instead, he raised money to send supplies to the civilian prisoners in Bohain and provided support to the wives of artists and others who had been sent to the front.
Haunted by guilt, Matisse did what he knew to do. He painted.