This past April at the Pompidou Center in Paris, I was charmed by this portrait: “Marguerite au Chat Noir,” or “Margaret with Black Cat.” The young lady was the daughter of Henri Matisse. He painted this portrait in 1910 and exhibited it in Berlin at the Secession show, and subsequently at the Armory Show in New York City in 1913. The portrait was considered radical and bold in its time; it still is, no less than its model. The artist kept this particular painting in his own possession, and his family has kept it since his death in 1954.
Marguerite was the artist’s only daughter. He portrayed her many times, no doubt thankful for every moment he spent with her. At the age of 6, she nearly died of diptheria. After that, she generally wore either high-necked clothing or a ribbon to cover the scar from the emergency tracheotomy during that illness.
Marguerite grew up to be a brave woman. In 1945, she was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo for her activities in the French Resistance. She somehow escaped from the train taking her to a concentration camp. She died in 1982, at age 87.
I wish I could have seen a show in Baltimore last fall, “Matisse’s Marguerite: Model Daughter,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A description of that show, by Tim Smith, is at touch.baltimoresun.com.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!