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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Intérieur - porte ouverte

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Intérieur - porte ouverte
signed 'Henri.Matisse' (lower right)
oil on canvas
15 x 18 1/8 in. (38 x 46 cm.)
Painted circa 1920-1921
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 4972), by 1924.
Henri Canonne, Paris, by whom acquired in 1924; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 28 May 1930, lot 34.
Acquired by the family of the present owner in the 1960s.
G.-P. & M. Dauberville, Matisse, vol. II, Paris, 1995, no. 428, p. 934 (illustrated p. 935).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim Jeune, Henri Matisse, May 1924, (probably) no. 37.
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Lot Essay

A certificate of authenticity will be issued to the purchaser of this work by Mme Wanda de Guébriant, upon request, after the sale.

Matisse painted Intérieur - porte ouverte circa 1920-21, during a pivotal moment in his career, when he was spending more and more time in the South of France, but continuing to head to Paris and his native North on a regular basis. This was a breakthrough period in Matisse's career, and it is a tribute to the importance of the pictures dating from this time that several hang now in the Barnes Foundation, having been acquired by Albert C. Barnes, one of the most active and vocal patrons of the artist. It was now, as he turned his attention more and more to the South of France and the light of the Mediterranean, that Matisse devoted himself with new concentration to colour and, importantly, to light. And it is with light and colour that the intimate view of the room and the landscape glimpsed through it that Intérieur - porte ouverte is bathed.

Despite this, the presence of the boats dragged onto the shore just behind the door and window imply that this is a painting from the Norman fishing village of Etretat, as is corroborated by the placement among other pictures executed there that Dauberville gave Intérieur - porte ouverte in his catalogue of Matisse's works. The boats seen through this door should thus be seen in the same light as those shown through the bedroom window of Intérieur à Etretat, painted in 1920 and now in the Museum Berggruen, Berlin. Etretat had been immortalised by two of Matisse's most important predecessors as revolutionary artists and landscapists, Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet, and was therefore a magnet for him. The famous rock formations in the cliffs, not least the 'elephant', have become icons of nineteenth-century painting, and Matisse now tackled them from his own new unique perspective. For this was a period of consolidation and reflection that resulted in innovation. This was also evident, during these trips, in the scenes of interiors and still life pictures that he created, which show a renewed vitality as he honed the style that would come to infuse so much of his subsequent work.

The first of the handful of annual visits that Matisse made to Etretat during this period was not only a pilgrimage for the sake of art, but also in order to help the convalescence of his daughter Marguerite who was recuperating from an operation. At the same time, this operation came in the wake of the death of Matisse's mother, which devastated him. This was, then, a time of anxiety and sadness for the artist. It was against this personal background that Matisse was painting; however, there is clearly none of the anxiety in Intérieur - porte ouverte, which has a breezy sense of contentedness and meditation, perfectly suited to the view of a comfortable room giving onto the sea, with the windows open to the elements. Instead, this work delivers the excitement that Matisse was clearly feeling as he sought a new means of presenting the world through colour and form-- he would paint the cliffs, as well as still life images of glistening fish, adding a thrilling thread of life to his pictures that is discreetly present even in Intérieur - porte ouverte.

Most of the views that Matisse had painted either from his studio in Paris overlooking the quai Saint Michel or from hotel rooms in Nice involved a downward angle of view, as the rooms were in elevated positions. However, Matisse was known to have been ecstatic sometimes to find a place to paint with a view from the ground floor, allowing for a composition that shows stacked layers of landscape, as is the case in Intérieur - porte ouverte. Here, through the door, there are levels of foreground, sea and sky that allow for a variety of colours to fill the space, creating a picture-within-a-picture, allowing a landscape into an interior and introducing a certain variety, a visual counterpoint to the yellows of the walls. The window motif was one that Matisse had explored again and again since his holiday with André Derain in Collioure in 1905. During that Fauve period, when his interest in bold colours had first truly come into its own, Matisse had seen the potential of this device to create thrilling contrasts, adding a rich and expressive variety to his works. In Intérieur - porte ouverte, this is intensified by the dabs of rich golden paint with which he has rendered the patterning of the walls.

Crucially, Matisse has abandoned the heavy contours that he had sometimes previously used to heighten the impact of colour in a manner reminiscent of stained glass, instead relying on his own natural sensibility to colour and to the harmonic effect of its juxtapositions. And it is through these techniques that Matisse conjures sensation, avoiding realism in favour of a subjective, lyrical capturing of some of the emotional state, some of the feelings, felt by the artist at the time of painting. 'There was no question any longer of evoking memories of the sea, the countryside, etc,' Matisse explained. 'What mattered now was making a construction. It was the vibration of the individual that counted rather than the object that produced the emotion; what was rendered was not material but the human emotion, a certain elevation of mind that could spring from any sensation' (Matisse, quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 85).

It is a tribute to the quality of Intérieur - porte ouverte that it was purchased, only a short time after its execution, by one of the great French collectors of the first part of the Twentieth Century, Henri Canonne. Canonne was a late patron of Impressionism, having accumulated an impressive array of pictures by Claude Monet in particular, including no less than seventeen water lily paintings. He also had works by Cézanne, Pissarro and Renoir amongst the Impressionists, as well as by Bonnard and Vuillard amongst other later artists.

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