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

Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel
signed and dated 'Matisse 52' (lower right)
gouache, watercolour and collage on paper
17¾ x 15¾ in. (45.2 x 40 cm.)
Executed in 1952
Heinz Berggruen, Paris, a gift from the artist in 1953 (after the work was used for for the poster of Berggruen's Matisse Papier Découpés exhibition of 1953).
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, by 1960.
Galerie Rusche, Cologne.
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired from the above in the early 1960s and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 10 February 2005, lot 665.
Private collection, London, by whom acquired at the above sale and thence by descent to the present owner.
Paris, Galerie Berggruen, Matisse Papiers Découpés, February - March 1953 (illustrated on the poster of the exhibition).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, October - November 1960 (probably no. 132, titled 'Komposition'); this exhibition later travelled to Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein- Westfalen, December 1960 - January 1961 and The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, February - April 1961.
Cologne, Galerie Baukunst, Werke der Reife, October - November 1970 (illustrated p. 57).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse Paper Cut-Outs, September - October 1977, no. 164 (titled 'Algue', illustrated p. 209); this exhibition later travelled to Detroit, The Institute of Arts, November 1977 - January 1978; St. Louis, Art Museum, January - March 1978.
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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Executed in 1952, Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel is filled with the energy, colour and verve characteristic of the cut-outs of Henri Matisse. In these deceptively simple works, Matisse found that he could use scissors and paper of various hues in order to 'draw with colour,' and this is clearly evident in the singing juxtaposition of the organic red form in this work, placed against its blue background. 'For me,' he explained, 'that simplifies matters. Instead of drawing an outline and then adding colour - which means that line and colour modify one another - I can draw directly in colour, and the colour is more precise in that it has not been transposed. The simplification means that the two means of expression can be united so precisely that they become a single means of expression' (Matisse, quoted in J. Guichard-Meili, Matisse Paper Cutouts, London, 1984, p. 54). Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel, then, is an expression of pure colourism and pure joy, taking the organic forms of the seabed and using them to harness a dancing vision of nature and beauty.

From the inception of his Fauve style, and even earlier, Matisse had always shown a deep love and unique understanding of colour and its potential; however, it was only in his cut-outs that he managed to present colour in its purest form. It is a tribute of Matisse's own estimation of this work and of this revolutionary artistic process that, the year after Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel was created, it was used on the cover of the exhibition catalogue and as a poster for Heinz Berggruen's 1953 show of Matisse cutouts in Paris. Indeed, the faint seam that is just visible above the signature was the result of Matisse's cutting the work in order to be able to insert the exhibition details. He then reassembled it, and gave it to Heinz Berggruen. Matisse had only recently become involved with Berggruen, who was soon to become one of the most important advocates of the importance of his papier découpé technique. Indeed, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the exhibition, an exhibition was held of the Sammlung Berggruen collection of Matisse cutouts in Berlin in 2003, a striking testament to their enduring appeal.

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