Woman Seated before a Black Background
(Femme assise sur fond noir)
Oil on canvas
Henri Matisse’s painting is alive with brilliant color and rhythmic line. By placing the chair off-center and shifting the woman’s pose further to the right, he establishes a lively informality. The woman’s tilted head, smile, kind eyes, and relaxed arms enhance the sense of ease. The visual weight of the black background is lightened by the lively pattern of arabesques scratched into the wet paint with the pointed tip of the artist’s brush handle.
Matisse painted this affirmation of life amid the tumult of World War II (1939–1945) and during his recuperation from surgery for stomach cancer.
My Fate Is in Your Hand (1950)
American, born Japan, 1889–1953
Oil on canvas
My Fate Is in Your Hand was painted five years after the end of World War II. Its jewel-like colors and geometric composition suggest joy and order. However, the caterpillar held in the palm of a hand and the grasshopper clinging to the painting’s vertical edge are reminders that forces beyond our control can affect our lives.
Yasuo Kuniyoshi immigrated to the United States in 1906. Throughout his life he faced anti-Asian bigotry. Although he evaded the Japanese internment camps during World War II, Kuniyoshi was designated an “enemy alien” by the American government. Despite discrimination, he worked for the U.S. cause during the war.