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Entrance to the Kasbah

Painting, 1913, 80×116 cm
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Description of the artwork «Entrance to the Kasbah»

Matisse took a great interest in the culture of the East even before travelling to Morocco. He specially went to Munich to visit an exhibition of Islamic art, where he spent hours admiring carpets, ceramics, carvings and ancient coins. Therefore, a trip to Tangier was not only a good opportunity for the artist to work on commissions from the collector Morozov, but also to get acquainted with the intriguing culture.

Yet, things went a little differently than expected there. Firstly, few of the locals agreed to pose for a foreign stranger because of the strict Muslim customs, and secondly, the Matisse couple chose an extremely bad time for travelling. The first two weeks of February 1912 it rained almost continuously, the city streets were flooded with rivers of dirty water, and it was rather difficult to leave the hotel. And the hotel itself left much to be desired: Villa de France could boast only an excellent view of the old town, while its rooms were dark, small and not particularly clean.

Only after a two-week imprisonment, having barely resisted the temptation to go home, Amelie and Henri Matisse were able to get out for a walk in the city and enjoy the beauty of the exotic surroundings. “Once the rain stopped, there sprang from the ground a marvel of flowering bulbs and greenery,” recalled the artist, “All the hills round Tangier, which had been the colour of a lion's skin, were covered with an extraordinary green under turbulent skies as in a painting by Delacroix. What melting light, quite different from the Côte d'Azur.”

The walls of the old town also barely resembled European urban landscapes, familiar to the Matisses. Traditionally, in the center of Moroccan cities towered a fortress, inside which there was the residence of the kings or the houses of the local nobility. Such ancient town blocks-citadels are called kasbahs. Matisse painted the entrance to one of them on the left side of the Moroccan triptych.

The predominance of different shades of blue in the painting Entrance to the Kasbah was neither the artist's fancy, nor an artistic exaggeration. The houses inside the fortress wall of the kasbah are, indeed, most often painted white and blue, and even in modern photographs of the streets of Morocco’s old city sky-blue shades will still dominate. Apparently, during his stay in Tangier, Matisse was so imbued with blue that it became the main colour, uniting all the pictures of the Moroccan triptych (1, 2).

Natalia Azarenko
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About the artwork

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Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Interior

Style of art: Fauvism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1913

Size: 80×116 cm

Artwork in selections: 25 selections

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