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

Portrait de Louis Aragon

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Portrait de Louis Aragon
signed, dated and inscribed 'Aragon mars 43 Henri Matisse' (lower left)
pen and India ink on paper
21 x 16 in. (53 x 41.5 cm.)
Drawn in March 1942
Jean Matisse, Paris, until 1976, and thence by descent.
Christian Tomasini, Paris, by whom acquired from the above in 1980.
Galerie Daniel Malingue, Paris, by whom acquired from the above, in the early 1980s.
Galerie Herbage, Cannes.
Waddington Galleries, London, by 1983.
Acquired from the above by Leslie Waddington circa 1984.
L. Aragon, Henri Matisse, a novel, London, 1971, vol. II, p. 49 (illustrated p. 52, no. 52).
Cannes, Galerie Herbage, Henri Matisse: Dessins, Lithographies, Sculptures, Collages, 1906-1952, March - June 1981, no. 20 (illustrated).
London, the Arts Council of Great Britain, The Hayward Gallery, The drawings of Henri Matisse, October 1984 - January 1985, no. 121; this exhibition later travelled to New York, Museum of Modern Art, February - May 1984.
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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.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a photo-certificate from Marguerite Duthuit.

Henri Matisse’s Portrait of Louis Aragon captures a sense of the close working friendship that existed between the iconic artist and the Surrealist writer and poet during the early 1940s, particularly during Aragon’s visits to the artist’s home in Nice as he began his iconic biography of the acclaimed painter. In return, Matisse began a suite of portrait drawings of the writer, following the sequential method he had perfected in his acclaimed Thèmes et Variations portfolio, for which Aragon also wrote an introductory essay. In these elegant drawings, the artist focused on capturing variations of a single subject, beginning with charcoal sketches before embarking on a series of pure line drawings to reveal the multiple aspects of its character across a number of images.

Presenting an almost cinematic sequence of views, moving from front to three-quarter and profile views of the sitter, Matisse executed four charcoal drawings of Aragon, as well as thirty-four studies in pen and black ink, including the present work. Using a series of reduced, but flowing, lines, Matisse eloquently captures Aragon’s likeness through the briefest outlines of his form. Describing the process, Aragon wrote: ‘The pencil flies over the great sheet of paper fast, as fast as possible, as if it were trying to beat a record… Matisse does not for one moment glance down at his hand’ (Aragon, quoted in Matisse: The Master, by H. Spurling, London, 2005, p. 406). Although the year ‘1943’ appears in the artist’s handwriting at the bottom left hand side of the page, Aragon explained that this was mistakenly inscribed by Matisse at a later date, and that all were created during the spring of 1942.

Following the completion of the series of drawings, Aragon found it difficult to identify himself in the images Matisse had produced. Suffering both physically and mentally as a result of the deprivations of life in war-torn France, and filled with an all-consuming anxiety regarding the safety of his friends and family, Aragon failed to see himself in the confident, fresh-faced debonair that populated Matisse’s drawings. It took him a long time to realise the accuracy of Matisse’s portrayal, acknowledging that the artist had managed to capture not one, ‘but thirty of my different selves’ (Aragon, quoted in ibid). Indeed, each of the thirty-four line drawings Matisse produced of Aragon are marked by a strong a sense of individuality, as subtle changes, details and shifts in their focus slowly reveal the many different facets of the great writer’s character.

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