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Lydia Delectorskaya - Matisse's Last Muse

Lydia Delectorskaya

Lydia Delectorskaya was Matisse's model, studio assistant and secretary for the last twenty years of the painter's life. A golden-haired beauty from Siberia, Lydia was orphaned at a young age, and managed on her own wits and mettle to flee Russia in its tumultuous post-Revolution years. Somehow she ended up in Nice, France, broke, with no job or connections. As luck would have it, Lydia found employment in the Henri Matisse household as both a studio assistant and domestic.

Lydia Delectorskaya began to pose regularly for Matisse, notably for a series of reclining nudes, including Le Reve (The Dream and Nu rose crevette (Large Reclining Nude), Began Nymphe dans la foret (Nymph in the Forest. She was a model for Matisse's famous composition Woman in Blue (1937) and Matisse's famous 1947 portrait of Lydia. Matisse's son Pierre told his father that he had renewed himself as a painter with Pink Nude, for which Lydia modelled over a period of six months in 1935.

Matisse famous portrait of Lydia, 1947

They had around 30 years differnce and although Lydia insisted that the relationship was strictly platonic, the intimate bond even if purely professional or emotional is seen on Matisse's canvas. Delectorskaya remained by the side of Henri Matisse until his death in 1954. They were the closest companions for the rest of Matisse's life, with Lydia acting as both caretaker and assistant, doting on Henri, seeing to his comfort, keeping him vital, and supporting his later artwork, notably his historic paper cutouts.

Visitors to Matisse's studio never tired of speculating about the role of the beautiful, enigmatic secretary known as "Mme Lydia," but few doubted that his survival depended on her, both as a man and an artist. In his closing decade in the face of exhaustion and failing health, Lydia made it possible for him to produce his final masterpieces-the chapel at Vence and the colored paper cut outs now generally agreed to be among the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Matisse died on November 3, 1954. He was 84.

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