During his Fauve years Matisse often painted landscapes in the south of France during the summer where he developed ideas into larger compositions before returning to Paris.
The oil on canvas painting Le Bonheur de Vivre is typical of the artist’s important imaginary compositions. Starting with a landscape he had painted in Collioure to provide the setting for the idyll, he also drew inspiration from Japanese woodcuts, Persian miniatures, Poussin, and Oriental depictions of harems.
Critics noticed that the broad swathes of colour and linear figures were a clear rejection of Paul Signac’s Pointillism style, which had gone before. The vast work and its shocking colours therefore received mixed reviews at the Salon des Indépendants.
Portraying an Arcadian landscape adorned with brilliantly coloured forest, meadow, sea, and sky Le Bonheur de Vivre is populated with dancing and relaxing nude figures. As with the earlier Fauve canvases, the purpose of colour was to directly express emotions and for the formal needs of the canvas, rather than to realistically represent nature.
The scene depicted in Le Bonheur de Vivre is an expression of pure pleasure. Here is a fantastical place full of life and love and free from negativity. Instead of a contemporary scene in a park, on the banks of the Seine, or other recognisable places in nature, Matisse has returned to mythic paradise.
The painting was purchased by wealthy expatriate American writer and poet Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo. Displaying it in their art filled home in Paris, the location was also where Gertrude’s weekly salon took place. Here, Matisse, Apollinaire, largely unknown Picasso and other members of the avant-garde gathered to exchange ideas.