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My story, “Collioure Shall Always Be Collioure,” explores the relationship between a model and her painter. According to the March 19, 2006 Washington Post, ““The Portrait of Olga Meerson” (1911) depicts the Russian woman who was deeply in love with Matisse in real life. Her unfinished face suggests a complex person whom Matisse found enigmatic. “”

Of course I have no way of knowing if that’s true, but an examination of the painting (and her painting of him) makes me wonder.

Olga Meerson by Henri Matisse. 1911. The portrait’s permanent home is at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. I was privileged to encounter it at The Art Institute in Chicago.

Matisse’s painting struck me as mysterious and, forgive me, Matisse fans, but a bit misogynistic. At the very least, I felt I had to dive into every line of the painting and what it might suggest about the relationship between the two to see what I could find.

Her posture, in particular, in the painting, struck me. That must have been painful to maintain. I used to be a member of a vocal group where on occasion we were asked to sit thus for maybe half an hour at a time while we waited our turn to sing. It hurt.

But what really struck me about the painting was that cigarette-like protrusion from her lips. The way he repainted her lips in a creepy way that seemed meant to quiet her.

And who would give someone that power over herself, who would tolerate that treatment, except either someone in love, or someone, at the very least, who was enthralled?

BTW, not enough is said about the negative effects of modeling.

Since reading Of Human Bondage, I’ve been captivated by obsessive love. I imagine it here. In my story, I imagine Matisse’s wife coming jealously in and out of the studio. And biography seems to hint that she both suspected something was happening between the pair and that is what led to the separation of Olga and Henri.

Sadly, Meerson’s real-life story does not have a happy ending. From what I can discover, little of her work remains. She died by her own hand in Berlin in 1929.

Matisse by Olga Meerson. 1911.

If you enjoy art fiction, art history, or just a story about obsessive love, this one’s for you. And it’s all yours just for signing up. Please do. I’m eager to get to know you.