The present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and the heirs of Oskar and Greta Moll. This resolves any dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the buyer.
Matisse modeled Fillette debout at Collioure during the summer of 1906, an intensely fruitful period in which he experimented freely in both painting and sculpture, testing a number of stylistic options in search of a new direction for his art. With its subtle anatomical distortions, hieratic frontality, and melancholic, almost elegiac mood, this compelling figurine departs radically from the more naturalistic mode that Matisse had employed in earlier sculptures and provides a powerful index of his intensified interest in primitive and archaic art, which would prove key in his journey from Fauvism to decorative abstraction. The model for the sculpture was Matisse’s daughter Marguerite, who was nearing twelve years old that summer. During the day, clad in a red dress with a pleated yoke collar, her hair loose around her shoulders, she sat patiently for the painting Marguerite lisant; when the light failed, she pinned her hair up in a loose bun and posed for Fillette debout, her hands resting demurely on her thighs. “Though modeled after Marguerite, Standing Nude is hardly a portrait,” Michael Mezzatesta has written. “For the first time in Matisse’s sculpture, a bronze assumed the status of a totem or icon” (Henri Matisse, Sculptor/Painter, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1984, p. 57).
The months before he embarked upon this second sojourn at Collioure had been exceptionally eventful for Matisse. The artist’s mounting reputation as the leader of the newly-christened Fauves, whose art had provoked a critical furor at the Salon d’Automne in 1905, brought about a sea change in his fortunes. The American expatriates Leo and Gertrude Stein, among the most daring and perceptive collectors of modern art in Paris, purchased Matisse’s incendiary Fauve portrait of his wife at the Salon for the asking price. In the spring, the enterprising dealer Eugène Druet gave Matisse the second one-man exhibition of his career and also paid 2000 francs for a stock of his latest work; competition stirred Ambroise Vollard to snap up several paintings as well. At the Salon des Indépendants in 1906, Matisse again contributed the show’s greatest succès de scandale–the monumental Bonheur de vivre, his sole submission. Less than a week after the exhibition closed, the artist left Paris, traveling first to Algeria for two weeks and then settling at Collioure for the season.
When Matisse began work on Fillette debout, the lessons of African sculpture–which he had first admired earlier that year at a curio shop called Chez le Père Sauvage–were at the forefront of his mind. Borrowing from the exaggerations and embellishments of tribal figurines that he had seen, he elongated the neck and torso of his sculpture of Marguerite and shortened and thickened the thighs; he gave the figurine an unexpectedly heavy coiffure, swelling breasts, projecting buttocks, and a pronounced roundness in the belly. These distortions imbue the sculpture with a new plastic and expressionist vigor, anticipating in a quiet way the more brutal deformations of Nu couché I (Aurore), 1907 and Figure decorative, 1908. The figure is no longer recognizable as an individual sitter; Matisse has overlaid Marguerite’s pre-adolescent form with a pronounced womanliness, which contrasts with the chaste, decorous pose to produce a powerful physical tension. The still, symmetrical stance of the figure–shoulders back, arms at the sides, hips level, and feet together, with only a slight turn of the head to disrupt the calm equilibrium–underscores its non-naturalistic conception, evoking the frontal posture and elegant formalism of archaic Greek korai, for example, or Amarna-period statuary.
“Sculpture once again became a testing ground,” Hilary Spurling has written. “Everything about the little figure of his daughter–its symmetrical stance, large head, long arms, short legs, prominent buttocks and belly–suggests how fast Matisse was moving away from anatomical construction towards the radical reinvention of the human body that impressed him in African or Egyptian sculpture” (op. cit., 1998, p. 363).
Pleased with the results of these audacious sculptural experiments, Matisse included a plaster cast of Fillette debout in a major still-life he later painted the same summer at Collioure, in which the studio is presented as a space of self-reflexive creativity. Set atop a table spread with a red rug, the sculpture is accompanied by a selection of fruits and two ceramic bowls that Matisse had brought back from Algeria; his painting Fleurs from the same year serves as a backdrop, closing off access to the space beyond. Rendered in tactile white impasto, the plaster statuette provides a solid, defining presence within the flattened, almost abstract eruption of color that surrounds it. Sandwiched between the actual picture plane and the represented canvas in the background, the resolutely material sculpture emphasizes the tension between surface and depth, color and space, artifice and illusion that Matisse was persistently exploring in his painting during this period.
In the ensuing months, as Matisse moved rapidly toward the style of decorative abstraction that would consolidate his position as the leader of the avant-garde (albeit with Picasso close at his heels), he continued to hold Fillette debout in high esteem. Recognizing the enduring relevance of the statuette’s figural distortions and conceptual (as opposed to naturalistic) underpinnings, he enlisted the foundry Bingen et Costenoble to produce the first two bronze casts of the sculpture in 1908; the present lot, numbered "1/10", is one of these important early bronzes. In the fall of the same year, exercising his right as a jury member to unlimited showing at the Salon d’Automne, Matisse exhibited an imposing group of thirty paintings, drawings, and sculptures, among them Fillette debout. In presenting such a large number of works, which echoed the retrospectives that Cézanne, Renoir, and Gauguin had received at the Salon d’Automne in recent years, Matisse was in effect proclaiming his position as a major modern master.
Shortly after the Salon d’Automne, if not before, the present cast of Fillette debout entered the collection of Oskar and Greta Moll–among the ten inaugural students of Matisse’s academy, short-lived but now legendary, and vigorous backers of his increasingly radical work. It is possible that it was this cast of the sculpture that Matisse included in his one-man show at Paul Cassirer’s gallery in December 1908, traveling to Berlin to oversee the installation and remaining to spend Christmas with the Molls. When the Cassirer show met with a largely hostile response, Greta Moll took up the charge of promoting Matisse’s reputation in Germany, translating his recent “Notes of a Painter”–one of the most important artist’s statements of the twentieth century–within weeks and publishing it in the widely circulated journal Kunst und Künstler.
Oskar and Greta Moll, the former a painter and the latter a sculptor, had met Matisse in 1907, when they traveled to Paris for the Salon d’Automne. “Enveloped in a black sheepskin coat, turned wool side out, with a square-cut red beard, strong features, and large shining eyes–a sight you couldn’t over look–that was Henri Matisse,” Greta later recalled of her first glimpse of the artist (quoted in ibid., p. 402). The Molls’ friend Hans Purrmann took them to Matisse’s studio at 19, quai Saint-Michel, where they made their first purchases of his work–a foundation on which they would go on to build one of the finest Matisse collections of its time. Greta’s lively demeanor charmed Matisse (he could not believe she was out of her teens, although she was twenty-three in 1907), and the couple quickly became intimates of the artist and his family, sharing musical evenings and celebratory repasts with them.
When Matisse decided to open a teaching academy in the Couvent des Oiseaux in January 1908, the Molls (along with Purrmann and Sarah Stein) were the very first to sign on, remaining in Paris for nearly the whole year to take instruction. Over the course of the spring and summer, Greta also sat long and patiently–ten times for three hours each, she reported in an invaluable account of Matisse’s working methods–for the artist to paint her portrait. Although she and Oskar were initially dismayed by the resolutely modern statement that Matisse produced in lieu of a more traditional likeness, they purchased the portrait for 1000 francs and soon came to appreciate its radically stylized, decorative rigor.