Known as Souvenir of Biskra in French, the Blue Nude is an early 1907 oil painting on canvas by the French artist Henri Matisse, displayed at the Baltimore Museum of Art in Maryland, in the United States as part of the Cone Collection. Although it may sound ridiculous, the controversial painting, which later motivated Pablo Picasso to create Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (Ref : les demoiselles davignon pablo picasso), was born of an accident. At that time, Matisse was working on a sculpture, Reclining Nude I, when it accidentally fell from his hand and damaged to pieces. It broke the heart of the artist, but he painted it in blue, against a background of palm fronds, before carefully repairing the unfinished sculpture. The painting, which was one of the paintings that would later create an international sensation at the Armory Show of 1913 in New York City, was a tribute to Cezanne and deliberate response to the nudes seen in the Paris Salon, who seem to be devoid of feminine grace and softness. The painting, which may be classified as Fauvist, was the last Matisse painting bought by Leo and Gertrude Stein, the famous American art collectors.
Souvenir of Biskra or the Blue Nude depicts a woman lying nude with one leg over the other and arm bent against her head. However, contrary to the traditional concept, she is not the soft image of a nude woman. By shattering the normal image of a nude woman, the artist rather created a much different, rougher portrayal of a nude, whose anatomy is different than the nude that we normally see or imagine, who seem to have definite muscle and that takes away the feminine softness from her body.
The painting also seems to be unreal as the artist used colour to represent shadows, and the details on this woman are unusual and unrealistic. This is evident in the shading on the inner side of the nude’s left breast and the dark lines around her thighs. In addition to that, some of her other features like, the toes, and fingers were not portrayed perfectly, which is contrary to the academy and more along the lines of the avant-garde.
Due to the sketch-like strokes applied on the canvas, the features of the nude became strong and angular that falls into the category of avant-garde and contrary to the smooth and soft lines that the academy strives for expressing a stronger sense of realism. The background of the subject nude also seems to be abstract because of the faint use of colour to portray the detail in the background, which falls into primitivism as well. Although it can be guessed that the background is about plants and flowers, it is hard to make out specific details for sure. The primitivism is also evident in the exaggerated quality of the woman's body. It is established that she is fit and strong, and has muscle defined by dark blue and black lines.
The Blue Nude created a public furor when it was first exhibited in 1907 at the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Society of Independent Artists), Salon des Indépendants, and also became the source of controversy involving delicate and sensitive issues like race, complexion, race relationship, and colonialism. It was also one of the paintings that later created an international sensations at the Armory Show of 1913 in New York City, and in the same year when the show toured from New York to Chicago, where people were expected to appreciate the exaggerations of the flesh, it was burned in effigy.
Sometimes the Blue Nude is compared to Paul Gauguin’s Nevermore, not only as both the works depict nude women but for the use of rich colours and some dark outlines. Apart from that, both are rustic and simple.