The four monumental bas-reliefs of a woman’s back that Henri Matisse finished between 1909 and 1930 are among the most enigmatic sculptures of the 20th century. They show him refining the figure’s forms — head, limbs, torso, spine — one after the other over the course of two decades.
But they’re a painter’s sculptures. Matisse’s formal progress in his paintings was one inspiration for them, which I stopped by to see the other day at UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. They’re the pinnacle of that remarkable public collection of some 70 Modern works, which rambles over five acres of the school’s North Campus.
Effectively two-dimensional, the shallowness of the reliefs is primarily a means