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    Sale 2045

    Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

    6 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 76

    Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

    Océanie, la mer

    Price Realised  


    Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
    Océanie, la mer
    signed and numbered 'Henri Matisse 2/30' (lower right)
    screenprint on linen
    66½ x 145¼ in. (169 x 369 cm.)
    Executed in 1946 in a numbered edition of 30

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    Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

    Océanie, la mer and its pendant composition, Océanie, le ciel, occupy a critical position in Matisse's late work. Screen-printed linen wall-hangings based upon cut-paper maquettes, the works represent Matisse's earliest use of the paper cut-out - his most important form of artistic expression during his last years - to create mural-sized compositions. The panels are also the first works in Matisse's oeuvre that draw explicitly upon his memories of a 1930 voyage to Tahiti, the iconography of which would become the mainstay of his late cut-outs (see Lots ___ and ___). John Klein has written, "In the mid-1940s, Matisse's recollection of the exotic nature of Tahiti and his technique of cutting paper to create works of art--two activities apparently unrelated to one another--came together in a broad flow of creativity. From this point forward he employed his Tahitian memories in the service of a new, thoroughgoing decorative spirit in his work. Océanie, le ciel and Océanie, la mer were the first large-scale reformulations of Matisse's impressions of Tahiti. They announce the alliance of exoticism and mural decoration that is the fullest contribution of Matisse's Tahitian experiences to the flowering of work in cut paper at the end of his career" (in "Matisse after Tahiti: The Domestication of Exotic Memory," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 60 (1997), p. 54).

    The genesis of the Océanie project dates to early 1946, when the London-based textile printer Zika Ascher approached Matisse about designing a fabric wall-hanging. Matisse did not immediately accept Ascher's offer, but asked him to visit again the next time that he came to Paris. When Ascher returned several months later to the artist's apartment, he found Matisse sitting on his bed, paper and scissors in hand, directing his assistant to pin cut-out shapes directly onto the walls of the room. Two adjacent walls were almost entirely covered with white silhouettes of birds, fish, sponges, coral, and seaweed (fig. 1), which Matisse proposed that Ascher reproduce as a pair of panels.

    Ascher faced several obstacles in translating these ephemeral compositions of cut paper into the more durable medium of screen-printed wall-hangings. First, he had to find the right cloth. Matisse worried that the first samples that Ascher sent to him were too fine and would lose their substance. In two letters dated October 1946, the artist stressed the importance of using a stiff cloth and enclosed samples of linen from a fabric supplier in the Breton town of Uzel. Second, Ascher had to duplicate the exact color of the apartment wall-covering, a pale beige that Matisse had chosen because it reminded him of the golden light of the Pacific. Matisse enlisted a picture restorer to provide him with dozens of color cards of minutely differing shades of beige, none of which satisfied him. Eventually, he sent two approximations to Ascher and instructed him to dye the linen a shade in between.

    The last problem was to determine an effective method for screen-printing the cut-out shapes onto the linen support. Ascher first attempted to make photographic enlargements for the printing, but he and Matisse were displeased with the results and decided to trace the full composition from the wall instead. The two panels were finally printed in 1948 at the Belfast Silk and Rayon Company, with Ascher overseeing the process. Thirty examples of each composition were produced, all of which Ascher sent to Matisse in Nice to check and sign. The original cut-paper elements, which had been removed from the wall for use in verifying the details of the silkscreens, were returned to Matisse, but never re-mounted.

    Matisse was delighted with the final silkscreens, which he described in one of his notebooks as his "very successful white and beige wall-hanging" (quoted in ibid., p. 55). He chose to keep half of the edition for himself and urged Jean Cassou, curator at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, to include the panels in an exhibition that he was organizing for the following year. In an article published in Labyrinthe in 1946, Matisse wrote about the present composition, "This panel, printed on linen - white for the motifs and beige for the background - forms, together with a second panel, a wall tapestry composed during reveries which came fifteen years after a voyage to Oceania. From the first, the enchantments of the sky there, the sea, the fish, and the coral in the lagoons, plunged me into the inaction of total ecstasy. With my eyes wide open I absorbed everything as a sponge absorbs liquid. It is only now that these wonders have returned to me, with tenderness and clarity, and have permitted me, with protracted pleasure, to execute these two panels" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., St. Louis, 1977, p. 125).

    Shortly after he made the maquettes for Océanie, le ciel and Océanie, la mer, Matisse created an additional pair of mural-sized, cut-paper compositions on the same theme. Entitled Polynésie, le ciel and Polynésie, la mer, these formed the basis for two tapestries produced by the Manufacture de Beauvais in 1948. Like the Océanie compositions, the Polynésie panels feature white marine and aerial motifs framed by an undulating white border, but the background consists of a grid of dark blue and turquoise rectangles in place of the uniform beige support.

    (fig. 1) Matisse's studio on the boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris, summer 1946. On the walls are early states of Océanie, le ciel (left) and the present work (right). BARCODE 24409681


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

    Pre-Lot Text



    H. Matisse, "Océanie: tenture murale," in Labyrinthe, 1946, p. 3 (another example illustrated).
    G. Diehl, "Contributions à l'Art Décoratif: Henri Matisse," in Art et Décoration, 1947, p. 7 (another example illustrated).
    A. H. Barr, Matisse, His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 510 (another example illustrated).
    G. Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, pp. 91 and 156.
    R. Escholier, Matisse, ce vivant, Paris, 1956, p. 109 (another example illustrated, pl. 42).
    J. Lassaigne, Biographie et critique, Geneva, 1959, p. 114.
    Brassaï, Conversations avec Picasso, Paris, 1964, pp. 305-306.
    D. Fourcade, "Autres propos de Henri Matisse," in Macula, 1976, p. 106.
    Exh. cat., Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, St. Louis Museum of Art, 1977, p. 125, no. 56 (another example illustrated, p. 126).
    J. Elderfield, The Cut Outs of Henri Matisse, exh. cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1978, p. 55 (another example illustrated pl. 7).
    I. Monod-Fontaine, Matisse, Paris, 1979, pp. 162-164 (another example illustrated).
    J. Flam, ed. Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, fig. 27 (another example illustrated facing p. 168).
    Exh. cat., Matisse: A Second Life, Musée du Luxembourg, 2005, pp. 172-175 and 178, no. 113 (another example illustrated in color, p. 175).
    H. Spurling, Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse Volume Two, New York, 2005, vol. 2, p. 446 (another example illustrated).