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    Sale 2047

    Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper

    7 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 539

    Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

    Grand nu

    Price Realised  


    Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
    Grand nu
    signed 'Henri-Matisse' (lower left)
    charcoal on paper
    19 1/8 x 24½ in. (48.6 x 62.2 cm.)
    Drawn in 1929

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    Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.

    During Matisse's early Nice period, he focused principally on the female figure, depicting women as odalisques: dressed in oriental costume or in various stages of undress-- either standing, seated or reclining-- in a luxurious, exotic interior. These women were immortalized in oils infused with southern light, bright colors and decorative patterning, or in ink drawings set in a harem interior. Throughout his career, Matisse sculpted three versions of the reclining nude, beginning in 1907. In 1927, his interest in the subject resurged after a twenty year hiatus. Not content with the articulation and balance of mass achieved in his 1907 Nu couché I Matisse took up his knife again to re-examine and perfect the undertaking begun two decades earlier.

    In his sculpture Nu couché II of 1927, Matisse inverted the position of the nude, and flattened and solidified her body. The upper left arm is barely distinguished from the torso, and the right hand melts into the head, emphasizing the solid materiality of the bronze. The figure looks straight ahead, and her hair has been removed, making the form more abstract. Albert E. Elsen speculates, "Was it to give himself a fresh start, literally a new perspective on an old problem? Was it to accommodate the tendency to read laterally from left to right so that the head and raised elbow would form the climactic rather than initial elements?" (A. E. Elsen, Sculpture of Henri Matisse, New York, 1972, p. 155-5).

    Nu couché III of 1929 pushes certain changes even further, particularly the flatness of the body. However, Matisse reintroduces certain formal elements from Nu couché I--the figure again looks to the side, over her body instead of straight forward. She has been given back her hair, and the arms are shortened. The present lot is most likely related to Nu couché III of 1929 (see fig.1 and fig. 2). It illustrates the formal alterations the artist employed in his latest sculpture as he strived to perfect one of the most monumental subjects of his oeuvre.

    The severe angularity and strong charcoal lines of Grand nu link it to the hard, straight cuts of a knife and the 3-dimensionality best achieved in sculpture. The model's body, which Matisse would typically draw in free, undulanting lines highlighting her soft, feminine curves, is here extremely sharpened and contorted. The figure's hip juts up, and is leveled off by a straight line as opposed to a natural curve. The line from her hip falls slowly to her waist, where it then snaps back up in another straight line towards her raised arm. Most notably, her face is depicted almost entirely in hard edges, a sharp line over her eyes showing a heavy brow and a violent slash across the side of her face denoting the cheekbone. Matisse exploits the medium of charcoal as if it were a sculptor's knife, slashing across the paper; this faceting and geometric rendering further recalls the Cubist work of his contemporaries decades earlier.

    The straight lines of the drawing are echoed in Nu couché III. In the sculpture the figure's body is flattened. Much emphasis is placed upon the generous curve of the stomach, which is also given extensive treatment in the drawing. The stomach appears distended in both mediums; it is depicted by two folds of flesh which are extended in the double line of the legs, stressing the horizontal pose of the body, and bringing it closer to the ground, making it recline even further. These latest reclining nudes of 1929--the present work and the sculpture--are formally distorted yet highly sensual. The figure becomes more assertive and confident, displaying her body and sexuality more boldly in 1929 through her upturned hip, deep reclining position, and the haughty gaze over her figure.

    (fig. 1) Photograph of Matisse modeling Nu couché III, Nice, 1929.

    (fig. 2) Henri Matisse, Nu couché III, 1929.


    Pierre Matisse, New York (by descent from the artist).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from a Private Collection

    Pierre Matisse & Modernism in America

    Modestly deflecting the praise that this legendary dealer deserved for shaping the career of so many artists and ultimately the face of modern art, Pierre Matisse often remarked "My artists made me" (quoted in J. Russell, Matisse, Father and Son, p. 7).

    Born in 1900, Pierre Matisse was the youngest son of Henri Matisse and Amélie Parayre and practically grew up in the studio of his father. Surrounded by these hallmarks of modernism and innovations in color application, Pierre developed a discerning yet distinctly unique artistic eye. After a brief foray as an artist, Pierre embarked on his own path in a new country with the brave ambition of bringing European contemporary art to America. When Pierre arrived in New York City in 1924 there were just a few galleries and absolutely no museums taking the risk of showing contemporary art. By 1929 the Museum of Modern Art was established, followed two years later by the Whitney Museum of American Art, radically shifting the public's attention to modernism in the public sphere. In October 1931, Pierre boldly opened the doors of the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street, where he would remain until his death in 1989.

    Pierre Matisse can be credited as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in the United States, his distinction among these pioneers being his staunch support and promotion of young European artists. While his gallery got off to a start with exhibitions of more established artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, André Derain and even his father, he soon began holding shows of completely unknown, emerging artists including Joan Miró, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet.

    Pierre was responsible for introducing the young painter Miró to America in 1932, and would remain his dealer and close friend for over five decades, supporting and promoting the artist's diverse output over his lifetime. In 1945, Pierre mounted the revolutionary exhibition of Mirø's Constellations series, which had been painted rather covertly and unseen by practically anyone until their arrival in New York. Pierre also championed Giacometti in America, holding a landmark retrospective of the artist's sculpture, paintings and drawings in 1948. Giacometti showed his gratitude toward his esteemed dealer writing in a letter to him, "What a life I have, thanks to you!" (quoted in ibid., p. 146.). Pierre also introduced another unfamiliar artist to America--Jean Dubuffet--ignoring the critics and public in Europe who dismissed his Art Brut style as savage and defiantly unappealing; and who would later been seen as one of the most pivotal artists of the century. Pierre's stable of artists later included Marc Chagall, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, Wilfredo Lam and Alexander Calder, to name a few.

    Not only was Pierre Matisse passionately dedicated to the careers of his artists, he worked assiduously to educate and challenge the top collectors and museum directors of his day. His influence on the history of modernism is witnessed in nearly every major private and public collection of 20th century art. Christie's is honored to offer a select group of works in our November Impressionist and Modern Art and Post-War and Contemporary sales that were once championed by Pierre Matisse and have remained in his family ever since.

    Photo captions
    Photograph of Pierre Matisse sitting for Alberto Giacometti, circa 1949.
    Photograph of Pierre Matisse, Pilar Miró, Patricia Matisse and Joan Miró, circa 1956.



    A.H. Barr, Jr., Henri Matisse, New York, 1951, p. 456 (dated 1928). A.E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse, New York, 1972, p. 157, no. 211 (illustrated; titled Reclining Nude).