1909 to 1910
The pair of panels known as "The Dance and Music" (also in the Hermitage) are amongst Matisse's most important - and most famous - works of the period 1908 to 1913. They were commissioned in 1910 by one of the leading Russian collectors of French late 19th and early 20th-century art, Sergey Shchukin. Until the Revolution of 1917, they hung on the staircase of his Moscow mansion.
Both compositions belong to a group of works united by the theme of "the golden age" of humanity, and therefore the figures are not real people but imagined image-symbols.
The sources of Matisse's "The Dance" lie in folk dances, which even today preserve something of the ritual nature - albeit not always comprehended today - of pagan times.
Before this canvas, the theme of the dance passed through several stages in Matisse's work. Only in this composition of 1910, however, did it acquire its famous passion and expressive resonance. The frenzy of the pagan bacchanalia is embodied in the powerful, stunning accord of red, blue and green, uniting Man, Heaven and Earth.
How rightly has Matisse captured the profound meaning of the dance, expressing man's suBConscious sense of involvement in the rhythms of nature and the cosmos! The five figures have firm outlines, while the deformation of those figures is an expression of their passionate arousal and the power of the all-consuming rhythm. The swift, joint movement fills the bodies with untamed life force and the red becomes a symbol of inner heat. The figures dance in the deep blue of the Cosmos and the green hill is charged with the energy of the dancers, sinking beneath their feet and then springing back.
For all its expressiveness, Matisse's "Dance" has no superfluous emotion, other than that required by the subject. The very organisation of the canvas ensures that. Instinct and consciousness are united into a harmonious whole, as we can feel in the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces, and in the outlines of the figure on the left, strong and classical in proportion.