A Glimmer of Optimism

Drawings, and Sketches by Henri Matisse

 
 

Portrait of Tamara or danseuse au repos, 1939

 
 

Danseuse assise, 1939

 
 

Still Life with sleeping woman, 1940

 
 

One may well ask, as Henri Matisse was best known for his models being clad in Moroccan or Parisian attire, rather then in Romanian ethnic dress or better still, not clad at all… So, why a Romanian Blouse, out of the blue?

Looking at some of Matisses’s earlier works one could discern the idea in the blouse of the 1939 dancer “Une danseuse au repos”, showing a seated woman wearing a Romanian blouse. Likewise, another of Matisse’s paintings, “Still Life with sleeping woman” , now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC . The sitter is a woman wearing an embroidered long-sleeve blouse, decorated on the upper part of the sleeve similarly to the Romanian blouses. An even earlier version, with prevailing greens appears in 1937. So, from these and other examples, one could suggest unequivocally, that the idea was not new in the artist’s mind. However, what was new on this occasion, in 1940, was that the Romanian Blouse  had become central to the subject, forcing it on ‘front stage’ and giving it a specific, named identity. The canvass must have been discussed, if not prompted by the visit of an old friend the Romanian painter Theodor Pallady (1871-1956), whose portrait was sketched by Matisse, in Nice, in 1940. The friendship between Matisse and the Romanian Pallady went back to their time together at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (1891-1900). Throughout their long correspondence a close affinity developed between the French and the Romanian painter. Quite apart from the closeness in style and demeanor, the two friends shared a great complicity, amongst which the image of Romanian muses, much in view in 20th century France, was a recurring subject. In his correspondence, Matisse would accompany his letters by sketches and would use Pallady as a sounding board, sometimes talking about his artistic and personal anxieties.

In this context, the theme of the Romanian Blouse becomes more significant. It was painted in 1940, during one of the darkest periods of the war, which the country had experienced under Nazi occupation. Matisse was soon going to abandon Nice, which was being bombed by German planes, for the relative security of the ‘arriere-pays’, in Vence. Reading some of the artist’s diaries of that period one could detect that the cheerfulness of the Romanian Blouse was acting like an antidote, as it represented a glimmer of optimism and of hope.

 

 

La Blouse Roumaine, Henri Matisse, 1940. The inspiration for the painting seems to have been Elvira Popescu, Elena Văcărescu, Anna de Noailles and Marthe Bibesco.

 

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The Romanian Blouse

Queen Marie of Romania

 
 

The main piece of the Romanian national dress is the blouse, the term being only attributed to the blouse worn by women. It is actually a Romanian traditional blouse worn on festive days, which is made of white cloth, cotton, flax or raw silk tissue, adorned with beads and embroideries on the sleeves and the neckline. The technique of adorning this blouse was handed down from mother to daughter, a fact that preserved the tradition and taste from one generation to another. The patterns are stylized, geometrical or inspired from nature.

In the course of time, the finesse of the materials that were used, the chromatic harmony, but also the cut of the pieces of the Romanian national dress, which were woven, cut and embroidered by hand, were appreciated by Romania’s Queens Elisabeta and Marie, but also by the women aristocrats of the time, who were proud to wear the Romanian national dress at various times.

 
 

The first Blouse Roumaine prototype is considered to be created starting the 6th century B.C in Cucuteni culture. The ancient piece was called “ie”. The name derived from Latin “tunicae linae” which means thin tunic.

 
 

The sewing process of a blouse roumaine. The tradition of manufacturing the blouse is still kept among very rare artisans who are living on forgotten lands of ancient romanian villages.

 
 

Revolutionary Romania (portrait of Maria Rosetti), Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, 1848

 
 

On the other hand, the Romanian blouse caught the artists’ eye and was immortalized by French painter Henri Matisse in several paintings, one of them, La Blouse roumaine (1940), being exhibited at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. A Romanian painter, Constantin Daniel Rosenthal, immortalized Maria Rosetti (the sister of artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti as well as William Michael Rossetti and Christina Georgina Rossetti) in Revolutionary Romania as wearing this kind of blouse and a head kerchief. The Romanian blouse also appears in the paintings made by Camil Ressu, Ion Theodorescu-Sion, Francisc Sirato, Nicolae Tonitza, Dumitru Ghiata, etc.

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent, 1981 Collection

 
 

Yves Saint Laurent, Spring/Summer 1997-1998

 
 

Stefano Pilati for Yves Saint Laurent

 
 

Jean-Paul Gaultier

 
 

Oscar De la Renta

 
 

Matthew Williamson

 
 

Adele wearing a Tom Ford blouse (spring summer 2011 collection)

 
 

Carolina Herrera Resort 2013 Collection

 
 

The Romanian blouse was equally the source of inspiration for the creation of some fashion designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, who in 1981 had an entire collection titled ‘La Blouse roumaine,’ followed by Jean Paul Gaultier, Kenzo or Tom Ford, who interpreted again the traditional blouse he found in the region of Sibiu (central Romania), with black embroidery specific to that area, which appeared in the American issue of Vogue magazine in March 2012, worn by singer Adele. Then there were Oscar de la Renta, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Anna Sui or Philippe Guilet. Some of the Romanian fashion designers that took their inspiration from the Romanian national dress are Adrian Oianu, Dorin Negrau, Corina Vladescu and Ingrid Vlasov.