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Bathers with a Turtle

Henri Matisse, French, 1869–1954
Oil on canvas
Made in
Paris, Île-de-France, Western Europe, France, Europe
Current Location
On View, Gallery 215
71 1/2 x 87 in. (181.6 x 221 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr.
© 2013 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Object Number
Three nude women on a featureless green beach congregate awkwardly around a brown turtle. The bathers' attentions, both to the diminutive creature on the ground and to each other, are compromised by their self-absorbed postures and lack of eye contact. Simple and abstract, this monumental composition is a radical reworking of Three Bathers, a smaller painting that Matisse completed during the previous year. The details present in the earlier work-the sailboats, the bathers' towels, and the radiant hues of Mediterranean summer- have been replaced by three strips of muted color, which represent land, water, and sky.
1908 - 1921
Folkwang Museum, Hagen, Germany, purchased from the artist by Karl Ernst Osthaus for the Folkwang Museum, Hagen [1]

1922 - 1937
Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany [2]

1937/08/24 - 1939
German National Socialist (Nazi) government, confiscated as "degenerate" from the Folkwang Museum, Essen, August 24, 1937, and held at Schloss Niederschönhausen [3]

1939/06/30 - 1964
Joseph Pulitzer Jr. (1913-1993) and Louise Vauclain Pulitzer (d.1968), St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased at the Galerie Fischer auction "Gemälde und Plastiken Moderner Kunst aus Deutschen Museen," held in the Grand Hôtel National, Lucerne, Switzerland, June 30, 1939, lot no. 93 [4]

1964 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Joseph Pulitzer Jr. and Louise Vauclain Pulitzer [5]

[1] This painting was purchased by Karl Ernst Osthaus for the Folkwang Museum in Spring, 1908, according to letters between Pierre Matisse and Osthaus. These letters were formerly in the Folkwang Museum, Essen and are now in private hands [Stein, Laurie. "The History and Reception of Matisse's Bathers with Turtle in Germany, 1908-1939." "Henri Matisse Bathers with a Turtle." St. Louis: The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1998].

[2] After Osthaus's death in 1921, the Folkwang Museum was moved from Hagen to its current location in Essen.

[3] This is documented in the exhibition catalog "Degenerate Art" [Baron, Stephanie, ed. "'Degenerate Art': The Fate of the Avant-garde in Nazi Germany." Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991].

[4] Pierre Matisse, the artist's son, was also a dealer who acted as an agent for the Pulitzers, purchasing the work for them at the Lucerne auction (see note [3]). An annotated copy of the catalogue includes "Pulitzer" after the entry for this painting [copy, SLAM document files]. Also, per information from Galerie Fischer, Lucerne [Stein, 1998].

[5] Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control and Associate Members of the Board of Control of the City Art Museum, December 9, 1964.
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