“Like many of his personal objects, this one captivated Matisse for different reasons at different moments in his career,” says Ellen McBreen, co-curator of “Matisse in the Studio,” an exhibition of the artist’s personal effects alongside the works in which they appear at the Royal Academy of Arts
in London. (It was organized by the Academy with the Museum of Fine Arts
in Boston, and originated there.)
One of the earliest appearances of this wedding gift in Matisse’s oeuvre is Still Life with a Chocolate Pot (c. 1900–02), where it sits stately atop a hefty book on a stool. “Matisse captures [the pot’s] graceful form and silver surface, combining tradition with the contemporary color theory he was learning at the time,” says McBreen. “You can see that in the contrasts of pure color.”
Shortly after its debut, Matisse cast the object again in Bouquet of Flowers in a Chocolate Pot (1902), yet now in a different role—as a vase. As noted by Royal Academy curator Lucy Chiswell, here the pot is captured in three-quarter profile, much like a formal portrait. The bouquet it holds is a reference to his wife, and the floral arrangements she crafted for her Parisian hat shop, which opened a year after their marriage.
“I like to think of this painting as a subtle tribute to his wife,” McBreen says. “The entire still life takes on an anthropomorphic quality, as if it were a stately figure sporting one of those fashionable milliner’s creations.” (Interestingly,
—Matisse’s friend and rival—purchased this painting in 1939.)
In contrast, the chocolate pot is much more discreet in Interior with Young Girl Reading (1905–06), wherein Matisse drowns it out amidst a Fauve color palette and quick brushstrokes. The “young girl” here is Matisse’s 11-year-old daughter. Indeed, it seems that the artist incorporated the chocolate pot into this paintings as a symbol of his family and domestic life.
However, after his striking Still Life with Blue Tablecloth of 1909—in which the chocolate pot appears before a busy monochrome pattern, alongside a vase and a plate of fruit—Matisse rather suddenly stopped painting the object for roughly three decades. During this time, he turned towards more figurative works featuring human figures, as well as a more simplified, pared-down style (see 1916’s The Piano Lesson, for instance, and The Pink Nude of 1935, or any of his odalisques).