The metamorphosis of the Shchukin Dance of 1910 into the vast, expanded arabesques and athletic eroticism of the two versions of 1931-33 remains one of the most spectacular achievements of recent painting. Composed as a mural to fit an architecturally confining space in Dr. Barnes's main picture gallery, the commission provided Matisse with a new yet n ot wholly unfamiliar functional problem: Dance and Music of 1910 had definite architectural ambitions since they were painted for specific locations in Shchukin's house. Moreover, the fact that Matisse was given erroneous dimensions for the lunette-like space they were to occupy offered the artist a second challenge to restudy the Dance motif, since the mistake was not discovered until one full-size version had been completed. He did not simply adapt his first composition to the new dimensions but instead reexplored the whole theme, emerging with an expressively different composition even though painted in the same hue and style. In the present preliminary studies, whose color concepts were rejected for the final versions, we glimpse the remains of the earlier concept of a ring of dancers, their hands held in powerful linking tension. In fact, there are earlier studies that show this original motif, which first appeared in Joy of Life, virtually intact though intersected by the lines of the vault. Gradually the artist took this architectural feature into account, until in these present studies the tense circle is broken, some of the dancers having fallen to the ground in exhaustion while others remain erect, triumphant survivors of the bacchic frenzy.
In reaching his final concepts for the color scheme, Matisse had pinned large sheets of colored paper to the canvas until he found the appropriate solution. This was the first instance in the artist's work of the papier-decoupe technique, one which he would exploit more openly in the later composition of his book Jazz and in the other, still larger works of the last six years of his life. As for drawing the figures on the canvas itself, he also had recourse to a novel method. In spite of the many earlier studies and sketches, these smaller efforts were not transferred to the final canvas through the time-honored process of enlargement. Instead, he drew on the large canvas with a piee of charcoal fastened to a long bamboo stick, creating truly monumental forms while retaining intact the electric spontaneity of his innate skill as a drafts man in the definitive realizations of the project.
In effect it has taken more than three decades for these murals to find a totally appreciative audience, and the ultimate justification of Matisse's solution has been helped by subsequent achievements. Matisse's art here seres as the historic link between the mellifluous arabesque of Neoclassical master like Ingres and the geometrically plotted curves of an abstractionist of the 1960s like Frank Stella.