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    Sale 12166

    Latin American Art

    25 - 26 May 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 18

    Matta (1911-2002)


    Price Realised  


    Matta (1911-2002)
    signed, dated, and titled 'Matta, 53, MORNINGNESS' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    46 3/4 x 68 1/4 in. (118.7 x 173.4 cm.)
    Painted in 1953.

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    This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Germana Matta Ferrari and dated 24 September 2009.

    In the decade following his departure from New York in 1948 amid a falling-out with the Surrealist circle, Matta took stock of his practice at mid-career, working out his existential doubts and humanist vision during an intensely self-reflexive period of peripatetic wandering. He based himself in Rome in the early 1950s as he traveled around Europe and Latin America, meditating on the ills of social injustice and reaffirming the necessity of what he described as “renaming the world.”[1] Matta continued to invest the poetics of his art with a keen social and psychic consciousness, seen already in the fraught, war-ridden “social morphologies” of the mid- to late 1940s, and his canvases of the 1950s probe new conceptual territory between dystopian, techno-futurism and organic regeneration.

    During this Italian period, Matta embarked on a series of paintings that William Rubin, curator of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (1956), has termed the “Dawns.” “Biological growth, the poetry of germination conceived in terms of a botanical fantasy, is the theme of the ‘Dawn’ variations that occupied Matta from the end of 1952 until just recently,” Rubin observed. “The ‘Dawns’ represent a renewal of hope and the return to an inner search enriched by the painter’s sojourns in the regions of man’s external dilemmas.” Rubin notes that “in the first of these ‘Dawns’ the bright colors appear as accents against a prevailingly grey ground,” and Morningness is characteristically awash with the coolly pearlescent light of daybreak.[2] Matta debuted this new direction in his work in New York in early 1953, describing his subject at the time as “the morning on earth” and “the real soul which is tenderness toward everything alive,” insisting that his paintings conjugated not the verb “to see”—a subtle jab at Greenbergian formalism and “opticality”—but rather the verb “to be,” understood in the fullness of its humanist reach.[3]

    Named by critic Howard Devree among the “outstanding pictures” on view at the Whitney Annual in 1955, the “thought-teasing and misty ‘Morningness’” counts among Matta’s most evocative paintings of this period.[4] Like the verdant Hills a Poppin (1953) and Syllables of Spring (1954), Morningness describes a gleaming, metaphysical landscape in a state of flux, smoky red and yellow forms congealing at the center of the canvas. Morningness cites Matta’s decade-earlier “inscapes”—landscapes of the inner psyche—in its suggestively liquid metamorphosis, its central image one of the universe coming into being. And yet Morningness is also a post-apocalyptic “Dawn”; the encroaching, paranoid presence of quasi-metallic, insect-like forms at the edges of the canvas betrays the scars and echoes of the Second World War. A paradigmatic painting, both of the historical moment and of Matta’s career to date, Morningness couples cosmic and human genesis, its shimmering astral light beckoning a new day to come.

    Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

    1 Roberto Matta, quoted in William Rubin, Matta (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1957), 9.
    2 Rubin, Matta, 9.
    3 “Mysteries of the Morning: Manhattan show,” Time, May 4, 1953, 78.
    4 Howard Devree, “Painting Round-Up: Whitney Museum Opens Its Big Annual Of Contemporary Work—De Kooning,” New York Times, November 13, 1955.


    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
    Maurice Lefebvre-Foinet, Paris.
    Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above).
    Anon. sale, Christie's, Paris, 1 December 2009, lot 61 (illustrated in color).
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    Exhibition catalogue, Le fantastique intérieur, Beaulieu, Abbaye de Beaulieu, 1975 (illustrated).


    Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, House of Art, 17 October-28 November 1954.
    New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1955 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, 9 November 1955-8 January 1956.
    Mannheim, Städtische Kunsthalle, Roberto Sebastian Matta, March-April, 1964.
    Beaulieu, Abbaye de Beaulieu, Le fantastique intérieur, June-September, 1975.