Lilacs, 1914. Henri Matisse. Oil on canvas. The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection, 2002. © 2019 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
In the years just before World War I, Matisse and many of his acquaintances challenged traditionally held views on painting. Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris were working in a Cubist vein, but Matisse was too intrigued by the sensory nature of objects and arabesque line to join them. Instead, he spent this period engrossed in "experimentation, liberalization, color, problems of color-as-energy, of color-as-light." In Lilacs, Matisse seems particularly interested in the ability of light to dematerialize objects. Illuminated from the right, the stems of the flowers disappear under the artist’s gaze, leaving only the brightly colored blossoms and leaves. A pipe and small sculpture complete this still life, which was presumably painted in the spring of 1914. The plaster cast at right is known as Small Crouching Nude with Arms and was created several years before the painting.