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

Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert
signed and dated 'Matisse 51' (lower right)
gouache and collage on paper
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24 x 19.5 cm.)
Executed in 1951
The artist's estate.
Jean Matisse.
Private collection, France.
Dickinson Roundell, Inc., London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003.
J. Cowart & J.D. Flam, Henri Matisse Paper Cut-Outs, New York, 1977, no. 126, p. 179 (illustrated).
Aix-en-Provence, Pavillon de Vendo^me, Henri Matisse, July - August 1960, no. 69.
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Exposition Henri Matisse, 1869-1954: peintures, dessins, gouaches, sculptures, gravures, July - September 1961, no. 164.
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, September - October 1977; this exhibition later travelled to Detroit, Institute ofArts and St. Louis, Art Museum.
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Antoine Lebouteiller
Antoine Lebouteiller

Lot Essay

This work is recorded in the Matisse archives under no. GO 121.

Executed in 1951 Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert is one of Henri Matisse's celebrated papiers découpés, or cut-outs, currently the subject of a highly-acclaimed exhibition at Tate, London which will move to the Museum of Modern Art, New York at the end of 2014. During the post-war years, Matisse's cut-outs acquired iconic status. Their deceptive simplicity, their seductive curves and their bold colours enchanted wide audiences. These qualities are clearly in evidence in Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert, which forms a baroque swirl of blue against its green background. This shape resembles some of the foliage that featured in a number of Matisse's images from this period, including images of fronds of sea-weed; it also appears to have the hint of an outstretched hand shown in relief. At the same time, it serves as a satisfying example of the arabesque that had so entranced Matisse throughout his career. Matisse would describe the arabesque in relation to his cut-outs, describing it as 'the most synthetic way to express oneself in all one's aspects. You find it in the general outline of certain cave drawings. It is the impassioned impulse that swells these drawings... Look at these blue women, this parakeet, these fruit and leaves. These are paper cut-outs and this is the arabesque. The arabesque is musically organised. It has its own timbre' (Matisse, quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1995, p. 210).

Matisse had in fact begun his first cut-outs almost two decades before he created Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert, but in their earlier incarnation had used them largely for design purposes. Using pins, Matisse would move fields of coloured paper in order to adjust compositions in small maquettes; this was a technique he employed while painting La danse, the mural he created for the American magnate and collector Albert C. Barnes in Merion, Pennsylvania. His use of swatches of paper that were shifted and held with pins may have been a variation on the techniques used in the world of textiles in which Matisse himself had been raised.

During the 1940s, especially following a gruelling operation, Matisse found himself less mobile. He began to draw more and paint less, and also turned to the cut-out as a new means of autonomous expression. This was explored in his publication, Jazz, which was eventually published in 1946. Soon, the cut-out was an indispensible part of Matisse's life and output. Indeed, he used it to design stained glass windows and chasubles for the chapel at Vence, whose decoration he oversaw during this period. It was in 1951 that the chapel was consecrated; this allowed a watershed, as Matisse was once more able to concentrate on creating cut-outs for their own sake, rather than as design elements for the chapel. It was perhaps in this context that Petite arabesque bleue sur fond vert was created. It is a tribute to the importance that these cut-outs held in Matisse's life that he filled his own home with them, living among the colourful strands of foliage and arabesques that he had created using paper and scissors. These were a culmination of his life-long aesthetic quest to create a synthesis between colour and line, between painting and drawing. As he explained, 'Paper cut-outs allow me to draw in colour' (Matisse, quoted in G. Néret, Henri Matisse: Cut-Outs, trans. C. Miller, Cologne, 1994, p. 10).

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