A certificate of authenticity will be issued to the purchaser of this work by Mme Wanda de Guébriant, upon request, after the sale.
Dating from the height of Henri Matisse's celebrated Fauve period, La pudeur (L'Italienne) is a bold and colourful painting from 1906 that within a short time of completion had been purchased by one of the artist's greatest patrons, Sarah Stein, the sister-in-law of Gertrude and Leo. This picture, then, dates from a crucial pivotal moment in Matisse's career when he had begun to consolidate his use of and indeed love of colour, while also gaining recognition and indeed financial stability through the Steins and, eventually, other admirers and patrons. La pudeur (L'Italienne) shows a woman who appears to be Matisse's wife in an almost classical, contemplative pose, holding a branch of flowers (which gave the picture another of its titles, La branche de fleurs). This deliberate avoidance of a conspicuously modern subject serves to highlight the intense modernity of the manner in which the woman has been depicted, with areas of unmodulated colour that show Matisse at the apogee of his Fauve manner.
Matisse's Fauvism had developed during 1905, most importantly during a holiday he had spent with André Derain at the very South of France, in Collioure, a port to which he would return year after year. There, inspired by the intense light of the pure, untouched landscape, he created a succession of pictures in which he and Derain honed the vivid, intensely colourful style that, when they returned and exhibited their paintings from this trip at the Salon d'Automne, would lead to the critic Louis Vauxcelles to dub them 'Fauves,' or wild beasts. In writing about the pictures at that exhibition, which included the celebrated La femme au chapeau now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Vauxcelles wrote with guarded enthusiasm:
'M. Matisse is one of the most richly endowed of today's painters. He might have won a facile success; instead he prefers to drive himself, to undertake passionate researches, to force pointillism to greater vibration... But his concern for form suffers' (L. Vauxcelles, quoted in A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1966, p. 63).
Alfred H. Barr speculated that it was in response to this accusation that Matisse painted the portrait of his wife that the Steins would come to nickname La raie verte, or the Green Stripe, a work that had a more solid sense of structure and which now hangs in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen; it is this same sense of structure that underpins La pudeur (L'Italienne). The bold areas of colour have taken on a planar quality that was absent in La femme au chapeau. These create a sense of moulded form, of the sculptural and three-dimensional quality of the woman. It is particularly apparent in the areas of the shoulders and arms, where Matisse has managed to conjure a sense of shading despite the intensity of the incandescent palette, sometimes creating an impression of shape through the manipulation of the brushstrokes alone. In this way, Matisse is revealing his continued interest in the work of Cézanne, which he had seen some time earlier and which would come to influence so many artists after the death of the Master of Aix and his posthumous retrospective in 1907.
The incredible intensity of the palette in La pudeur (L'Italienne) owes itself to Matisse's time with his fellow Fauves and to Collioure, and also crucially to another influence-- another holiday. For in 1904, Matisse and his wife had summered with Paul Signac at his villa, La Hune, near St. Tropez. There, Matisse had been struck by the use of colours in the works of the Neo-Impressionists, and had himself developed his own Pointillism. The pictures that he created during this time achieved some acclaim; however, it was on his return to Paris that he began to take the lessons of divided colour, of the thrilling juxtapositions that could add such extra life and verve to the oils on a canvas, to a new extreme. In this, he was influenced by the examples of Derain and an artist he had met through him some years earlier: Maurice de Vlaminck. Derain had introduced Matisse to Vlaminck at the 1901 retrospective of Van Gogh's works that was held at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery. Matisse himself recalled:
'I saw Derain in the company of an enormous young fellow who proclaimed his enthusiasm in a voice of authority. He said, 'You see, you've got to paint with pure cobalts, pure vermilions, pure veronese.' I think Derain was a bit afraid of him. But he admired him for his enthusiasm and his passion. He came up to me and introduced Vlaminck. Derain asked me to go to see his parents to persuade them that painting was a respectable trade, contrary to what they thought. And to give more weight to my visit, I took my wife with me. To tell the truth, the painting of Derain and Vlaminck did not surprise me, for it was close to the researches I myself was pursuing. But I was moved to see that these very young men had certain convictions similar to my own' (H. Matisse, quoted in J. Elderfield, The 'Wild Beasts': Fauvism and Its Affinities, Oxford, New York & Toronto, 1976, p. 30).
It was in 1905 that Matisse had had to convince Derain's parents that art was a serious vocation. His age and his ability to present himself respectably (with wife in tow) doubtlessly helped convince them, and so soon Derain joined the older artist in Collioure while Vlaminck remained in his beloved Chatou. Derain and Matisse painted alongside each other while there, gradually developing a bolder form of painting that they explained to Vlaminck in extensive correspondence. During this time, Matisse painted La femme au chapeau and also the inception of his celebrated window device, La fenêtre ouverte. In these pictures, expressionistic areas of raw colour came to the fore, mingling in order to present the subject in a subjective way, capturing some of the emotions being felt by the artist rather than limiting themselves to realism. These revolutionary works took the example of Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism to a new level. As Vlaminck stated, 'What I could have done in real life only by throwing a bomb which would have led to the scaffold I tried to achieve in painting by using colour of maximum purity. In this way I satisfied my urge to destroy old conventions, to 'disobey' in order to re-create a tangible, living, and liberated world' (M. Vlaminck, quoted in S. Whitfield, Fauvism, London, 1996, p. 33). This was true too for Matisse. However, as can be sensed from the contemplative atmosphere of La pudeur (L'Italienne), Matisse was less attracted to the anarchic overthrow of all art and all the stultifying institutions, and was more interested in finding a new solution, a new path for painting. It was less in the works shown at that famous Salon d'Automne than in the pictures created afterwards, liks the present work, that this truly came about. Now, Matisse was the leading innovator in modern painting.
By the time of the Salon d'Automne, Matisse and his wife were in dire financial straits; the scorn that some of the viewers heaped upon the Fauves' works pushed him further towards despair. It is a strange testimony to the lack of understanding that the public would show to his new, pioneering masterpieces that while one of his pictures had been purchased the previous year by the State, it would be seventeen years before this happened again. There was a lack of acceptance in France, the prophet always being ignored in his homeland. But this contrasted with the enthusiasm shown by the Stein family when they saw La femme au chapeau in particular. Leo Stein, partly advised by his sister-in-law Sarah, the first owner of La pudeur (L'Italienne), offered 300 francs for the picture. '[La femme au chapeau] was... a thing brilliant and powerful, but the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen... I would have snatched it at once if I had not needed a few days to get over the unpleasantness of the putting on of the paint. After the couple of days needed to get used to the smearing, I made an offer for the picture' (L. Stein, quoted in Barr, op.cit., 1966, p. 57). Despite the terrible state of his affairs, Matisse held out, and sure enough the Steins eventually offered the full price of 500 francs. The picture originally went to Leo and Gertrude's apartment, and subsequently to Michael and Sarah Stein. This gave Matisse the financial boost, and the boost of confidence, that allowed him to continue down the exciting colourist path that he had chosen.
Within a short time, Leo was introduced to Matisse through Henri Manguin; he then brought Michael and Sarah to Matisse's studio, on which occasion they made their own first purchase; as the photograph of their apartment on rue Madame shows, they had already accumulated a significant number of pictures by the end of 1907, including La pudeur (L'Italienne). Alongside this picture, the photograph features works including La raie verte, Les oignons roses and the self-portrait, all now in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (the Steins would subsequently sell many of their pictures, in the wake of the First World War, to Scandinavian collectors); a sketch for Le bonheur de vivre, which is now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (the home of La femme au chapeau); and one of his celebrated sailor paintings. Because of the legacy of Gertrude, Michael and Sarah Stein have been overshadowed in history. However, they were two of the most important patrons and supporters of Matisse during this period, alongside the older Sergei Shchukin. Crucially, Sarah, or Sally as she was known, also became a close friend of the artist's, her spirituality finding great resonance in Matisse's own character and his art; it is telling that, when Marguerite Matisse married in 1923, Michael and Sarah Stein were the only non-family members invited to the wedding meal. Of Sarah, Matisse himself recalled:
'Madame Michel Stein... was the really intelligently sensitive member of the family. Leo Stein thought very highly of her because she possessed a sensibility which awakened the same thing in himself' (H. Matisse, quoted in ibid., p. 58).
One of the reasons that Leo, and not they, had taken La femme au chapeau from the Salon was that their own means were more limited. Despite this, they astutely dedicated their funds to his pictures; this marked the beginning of an intense friendship, the Matisse family and the Steins often spending their time together. And crucially, it marked the beginning of one of the greatest collections of Matisse's art, as is borne out by the photographs of the interior of their apartment. It was Sarah who introduced Etta Cone to Matisse; she and her sister would later assemble the famous Baltimore collection that, bequeathed to their native city, has such a rich array of pictures by Matisse. She was also the first person to introduce his work to her native San Francisco, where her father had been a successful lawyer. During Matisse's Fauve period, though, the four Steins bought almost the entirety of his pictures, some of them the most iconic of his whole career, many of which are now in museum collections throughout the world.