Unable to sleep and kept alive by his drive to create, Matisse had much in common with Scheherazade, the legendary narrator of the Persian literary classic Arabian Nights. Scheherazade saves her own life from a vengeful king by enthralling him with a story that she always interrupts at a moment of suspense just after dawn, ensuring her survival through 1,001 nights. Like her tales, The Thousand and One Nights is a work rich in fantastical imagery and symbolism created during many sleepless, difficult hours.
The composition—with its fanciful magic lamps, dancing plant forms, hearts, and cut-out text—evokes the supernatural quality of the heroine’s storytelling and also the passage of time through the night. The complex shapes are skillfully interwoven to create a spontaneous, musical rhythm that captures the fascinating rapture of the story that inspired it. This work is a visitor favorite, but due to its fragile nature, it is only on view for a limited period of time—don’t miss it!
This exhibition is organized by Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts.