• The Art of the Surreal Evening auction at Christies

    Sale 7903

    The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale

    2 February 2010, London, King Street

  • Lot 127

    Matta (1911-2002)

    L'idée noire

    Price Realised  


    Matta (1911-2002)
    L'idée noire
    oil on canvas
    20 x 25 in. (51 x 63.6 cm.)
    Painted in 1942

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    The authenticity of this painting has been confirmed by Mme Ferrari-Matta.

    Executed in 1942, Matta's Sans titre presents the viewer with a web-like cosmic vision of Bosch-like proportions. The spidery, interweaving lines and forms picked out against the dark space-like background interspersed with painterly planets mean that the picture has aspects that recall scientific visions as well as hallucinations, reflecting Matta's incorporation within his visual idiom of the lessons learnt during his days as a pupil of Le Corbusier. This sense of the diagrammatic adds a veracity to the picture, as well as reinforcing the viewer's feeling that, however alien it may be, there is a logic to the images and their interplay. Parts of Sans titre are reminiscent of scientific illustrations, of engineering plans, of graphs and statistics. He has twisted the pictorial language of the known and the quantifiable to his own ends, in order to present his own vision of some netherworld of the mind as a reality in its own right.

    The interest in subverting science reflects the reappearance in Matta's life of the artist Duchamp, whom he had known previously and with whom he became reacquainted the year Sans titre was executed. In many ways, Matta was to become the Duchamp of his generation, not least in the Svengali-like sway that he would come to hold over the young American artists developing at that time. Matta was a well-connected exotic, and introduced the young artists to ideas, such as the automatism that we can infer was used in part in Sans titre, that would change the face of painting the world over. This was the beginning of arguably the most significant period of his career, as he created increasingly strong, and increasingly large, images, both on paper and increasingly in oil. This resulted in great acclaim: his first exhibition, at Pierre Matisse's gallery, was praised by Breton as one of the high points of Surrealism.

    The late 1930s had been a series of epiphanies for Matta, who had journeyed a great deal around Europe. His travels were extensive during this period, and on them he had met and became associated with many of the leading luminaries of European art. The central hub of his travels during this time had been Paris. It was there that he first saw Picassos Guernica, a picture that opened new possibilities to him. Shortly afterwards, Matta came into contact with the Surrealists. The movement had been relatively stagnant for some time, and far too established for its own good, as was perfectly demonstrated by the relative respectability of the grandiose Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, held in vast building on the respectable Rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré. It is perhaps telling that Matta, encouraged to exhibit there, made only a small contribution to the proceedings. Matta was a breath of fresh air, approaching the movement and its ideas from a position of intense learning and intelligence, while having the advantageous exoticism of his Latin American origins to boot. Under the flag of Surrealism, his expressive works, strange nightmare visions with strange amorphous shapes and scenes, went from strength to strength. He developed a form of 'inscape, his term for a landscape of the mind.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.


    Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.
    Acquavella Modern Art, Reno, Nevada (no. 379).
    Acquired by the present owner circa 1989.

    Pre-Lot Text