Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED NEW YORK COLLECTION
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

La danse

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
La danse
signed 'H. Matisse' (lower right)
gouache, watercolour, India ink and pencil on paper collage
19 1/8 x 24 1/8 in. (48.5 x 61.2 cm.)
Executed in 1938
Richard S. Davis, New York.
Richard, Margery, & John Davis, New York, by descent from the above by 1977.
Private collection, by the early 1980s.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 2 February 2004, lot 35.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 6 February 2007, lot 39.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Verve, December 1938 (the offset lithograph illustrated in colour, pp. 52-53).
Verve, no. 4, January - March 1939.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Sources of Modern Painting: A Loan Exhibition Assembled from Loans from American Private and Public Collections, March - April 1939, no. 55 (illustrated p. 64).
Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse Paper Cut-Outs, September - October 1977, no. 9 (illustrated p. 96); this exhibition later travelled to Detroit, Institute of Arts, November 1977 - January 1978; St. Louis, Art Museum, January - March 1978.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.
Sale room notice
Please note that the present work has been requested for inclusion in the following exhibition:
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
Tate Modern, London: 17 April 2014 - 7 September 2014
Museum of Modern Art, New York: 14 October 2014 - 9 February 2015

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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.


'Drawing with scissors. Cutting directly into vivid colour reminds me of the direct carving of sculptors' (Matisse, Jazz, 1947, quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1995, p. 172).

La danse, created in 1938, is one of the very earliest of Henri Matisse's papiers collés, or 'cut-outs'. This was a medium that occupied him for the last decade and a half of his life, during what he aptly referred to as a 'floraison' in his career, highlighting the importance that these works had for the artist himself (Matisse, quoted in J. Golding, 'Introduction', pp. 10-18, J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, exh.cat., London & New York, 1985, p. 16). From the early 1940s in particular, when Matisse was partly immobile following health issues and a critical operation, he worked increasingly within this medium, cutting shapes into pre-coloured paper in order to create vibrant, collage-like compositions, turning away more and more from painting and drawing. La danse predates his infirmity, and is therefore an early indication of his growing fascination with this medium and its potential. It is a reflection of the importance of this work that it was formerly owned by Richard S. Davis, the eminent post-war director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. As well as owning a number of works by Matisse and various other artists, Davis was responsible for important exhibitions and publications, as well as making a number of purchases that strengthened its collection.

At the centre of La danse is an exquisitely-rendered gouache reprisal of one of Matisse's most acclaimed masterpieces, the 1910 oil painting of the same title which is now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. That large picture, created for Matisse's Russian patron Sergei Shchukin, remains one of his most acclaimed masterpieces and saw the artist returning to a theme he had explored the previous year in a painting now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Shchukin picture was painted on a mural scale, over two metres tall and four wide, whereas La danse presents the viewer with a far more manageable example. Indeed, the scale of La danse relates to its original purpose: the image was created as a design for inclusion in Tériade's influential magazine, Verve, and therefore was intended to be the source material for a print created according to this design to be used as a page. Indeed, it has been suggested that the colourful border around the central panel with the gouache image of La danse itself may have been intended to adapt the original composition to the page format of Verve (see J. Cowart et al., Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, exh. cat., St. Louis, 1977, p. 96).

This theme of La danse, so apt for a publication entitled Verve, had also more recently been at the forefront of Matisse's work, as he had created a new image for Albert C. Barnes to be installed in some lunettes. This commission in the late 1920s, which extended into the early 1930s, in fact resulted in two sets of murals on the theme of the dance, as Matisse was initially given the wrong dimensions; the first attempt, created to the incorrect specifications, was subsequently purchased by the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. In creating the murals for Barnes, Matisse planned some of the composition by taking coloured pieces of paper and moving them around within lunette-shaped areas in order to see how the image would work within the three arches. An insight into his creative process at this time is given by a photograph from 1929 showing him in his studio, a reproduction of his earlier La danse visible by the wall, while he stands in front of supports already showing the three lunettes in miniature. Similarly, when Matisse was asked to create set designs for the ballet Rouge et noir in 1937, around the time that La danse was made, he used the cut-out as a means of creating templates and maquettes that allowed him to plan his compositions on a smaller scale, as is the case with his image of Deux danseurs from that time, where the pins that allowed him to move the various elements around are still visible. These almost sketch-like images served as a precursor to the papiers collés such as La danse.

In a sense, the evolution of La danse, then, was the inversion of that of the Barnes mural: where in the latter, he had used a form of papier collé in order to create his large-scale composition, here, he has distilled the essence of another mural into a 'cut-out', adding a vibrant visual flare through the use of the colour pediment of the black, blue and yellow frame. The colours help to heighten the intensity of the red and green of the actual figurative image at the core of the picture, an effect that is heightened by the darker areas. This reveals Matisse's use of the papier collé as a means of pushing his colourism to a new extreme. As he would explain to André Lejard: 'Paper cut-outs allow me to draw in colour. For me it is a question of simplification. Instead of drawing the outline and establishing colour within it, I draw directly in the colour, which is more exact for not being transposed' (Matisse, quoted in G. Néret, Henri Matisse: Cut-Outs, trans. C. Miller, Cologne, 1994, p. 10). In La danse,

The use of these swathes of prepared coloured sheets was perfectly suited to reproduction in print media, and this helped to ensure the rapid popularity of the papiers collés, as they appeared on the cover of publications such as Cahiers d'art and of course Tériade's Verve. Indeed, Matisse created a number of images for Tériade's cherished, luxuriously-produced books and periodicals over the years, often incorporating musical themes as here. For instance, his Icare 1943 (or 1946 - one version of this motif was signed at that later date) was created for Jazz, which was published in 1947. Because of the nature of these books, many of which are greatly sought-after and which were naturally circulated, Matisse's 'cut-outs' such as La danse were to become among his most recognisable works.

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