This portrait of three sisters is one of Matisse's master works. Three young brunettes are seated before a bistre background. Two of the young women look out at us while the last one is absorbed in her reading. The painter successfully creates a perfect balance between various seemingly incompatible elements: the different attitudes of the three sisters, the discordant colours, the impression of juxtaposition of several levels of perspective. Multiple sources helped inspire this painting: Manet's (1832-1883) painting, Japanese engraving and the painting Les dames de Gand [The Three Gand Ladies] which is conserved at the Louvre and at the time attributed to Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), could have been inspirational for Matisse. At the time, Matisse's interest in this subject was expressed many times and gave rise to different versions. As such, we know of three paintings that also depict three sisters, each time in different clothing and poses, conserved at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. That is probably where an explanation can be found for the painting's presence at the Musée de l'Orangerie. In fact, the art dealer Paul Guillaume contributed a great deal to the constitution of Doctor Barnes' (1872-1951) collection and it is very likely that Matisse's paintings representing the three sisters came through his gallery before arriving in the United States. It was one of the few works that Paul Guillaume bought at a public sale, certainly in memory of the paintings ceded to Doctor Barnes.
Provenance: Auguste Pellerin; vente Pellerin, 7 mai 1926, Paris n°66 (repr.); Paul Guillaume; Domenica Walter