Through the 1920s, Matisse stayed in Nice from late fall to early spring of each year, while his wife and family remained in Issy-les-Moulineaux outside Paris. Pianist and Checker Players is set in Matisse's Nice apartment and shows the artist's favorite model, Henriette Darricarère, and her two brothers. The painting can be seen as a surrogate family portrait, with Henriette standing in for Matisse's daughter, and the two boys representing his sons. But regardless of the relationship between the artist and his subjects, this is distinctly Matisse's world: near the empty armchair at the center of the painting where the artist might sit, his violins hang from the armoire and his drawings and paintings are tacked to the wall.
The possible psychological complexities of the painting are more than matched by those of its pictorial organization. In few paintings does Matisse manage to control such an extraordinary proliferation of pattern and ornamentation. To this decorative profusion Matisse adds an equivalent abundance of perspectival viewpoints: piano, chairs, floor, and bureau are each pictured from different angles. Despite the wealth of pictorial elements, a curious, calm order of structured harmony prevails. #Pianist and Checker Players# is suffused with a warm glow made up of complementary tones of yellow and red.