Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
signed with initials and dated 'HM 53' (lower right)
gouache, watercolor, brush and India and black inks, black Conté crayon, pencil and paper collage on paper laid down on canvas
118 1/8 x 43 ¼ in. (300 x 109.9 cm.)
Executed in 1953 
Mary Lasker, New York (acquired from the artist, 1953).
Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Inc., New York.
Private collection, Chicago (acquired from the above, 14 May 1971); sale, Christie’s, New York, 11 November 1997, lot 166.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J. Cowart, J.D. Flam, D. Fourcade and J.H. Neff, Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, exh. cat., The St. Louis Art Museum, 1977, p. 265 (illustrated, fig. 72; with incorrect dimensions and incomplete medium).
J. Russell, Matisse: Father and Son, New York, 1999.
O. Berggruen, M. Hollein and M. Anthonioz, Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors, Masterpieces from the Late Years, exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2002, p. 73 (illustrated).

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Max Carter

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Henri Matisse created this full-length, door-shaped paper cut-out Grille in 1953 to complement an even larger, wall-sized maquette for a stained-glass window, to fulfill a commission that his son Pierre, a New York dealer, had arranged with Mary Woodward Lasker, one of the artist’s leading American collectors. Mrs. Lasker was planning to build a mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, New York, for her late husband, Albert D. Lasker, internationally renowned as the “father of modern advertising.” Mr. Lasker had also shared his wife’s admiration for Matisse’s work. Alfred Frankfurter, the editor of ARTnews and Mrs. Lasker’s close friend, endorsed her selection of Matisse as the artist best qualified for this project.
Grille comprises a linked network of spiral elements, which, when cast in bronze, would deter an intruder. The metal door, however, would be backed with glass, allowing a visitor approaching the entrance to peer into the enclosed space of the mausoleum before opening the door and stepping within. The spiral motif is one humankind’s earliest symbols, found in megalithic funerary sites, evoking the journey of the soul into the burial chamber, there to return to the womb of the primal mother and thence be reborn.
The sight then greeting the viewer within the room, as Matisse envisioned it, would be astonishing: an ethereal space bathed in luminous colors, as sunlight streamed through the great, wall-sized stained-glass window, in nine adjoining sections that constituted the opposite, rear face of the chamber. Matisse chose as his window theme the Lierre en fleur—the evergreen ivy leaf, which blooms in the fall. Ivy in ancient Greek mythology was sacred to Dionysus and symbolized immortality.
“The main goal of my work is clarity of light,” Matisse declared to Pierre Couthion in 1941 (S. Guilbaut, ed., Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, Los Angeles, 2013, p. 107). The artist had reached a turning point by the end of that decade. While painting the series of Vence Intérieurs between 1946 and 1948, Matisse came to the decision, partly for medical reasons, that he must soon give up working in oils on canvas for good, and turn instead to the paper cut-out as his chief means of creating forms in color. “Paintings seem to be finished for me now,” he wrote to his daughter Marguerite Duthuit. “I’m for decoration—there I give everything I can—I put into it all the acquisitions of my life. In pictures, I can only go back over the same ground...but in design and decoration, I have the mastery, I’m sure of it” (quoted in H. Spurling, Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse, New York, 2005, p. 428).
Matisse called this transformative, final period in his career “my second life.” A supreme moment, and the vindication of his new working method as well, was the consecration of La Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence on 25 June 1951. Working in cut-out painted papers—“Drawing with scissors,” as the artist described his new technique, in which he combined both line and color in a single gesture—enabled the artist to invent what he regarded as purely “plastic signs,” a style of notation divested of representation, but replete with personal feeling and meaning, revealing his innermost, spontaneous response to the world around him.
This novel procedure made possible the conception of his designs for the Vence Chapel, and pointed the way toward the culmination of his quest for “clarity of light,” in its most pure, essential expression—the realization of magnificent projects executed in stained glass. “I cut the gouache sheets the way you cut glass” Matisse explained (quoted in M. Billot, ed., The Vence Chapel: The Archive of a Creation, Houston, 1999, p. 129). In stained glass, Matisse would bring a visionary, incorporeal world of images to dazzling life, fired by the light of the mighty sun itself.
The Lasker door and window “was the kind of commission that Henri Matisse craved especially at this stage in his life,” John Russell wrote. “He was offered a free hand in a prestigious enterprise. It would be, in effect, a small-scale reprise in the United States of his chapel in Vence. It would be devotional, but not drab. It would be planned by himself, to the nearest fraction of an inch, and executed by reliable craftsmen in an idiom he understood completely. It would be talked about, and bring in some money...He had not long emerged from a period in which there had been virtually no demand for his work in France. So a proposition from the United States came to him almost as a lifeline” (op. cit., 1999, pp. 370-371).
Matisse completed the maquette for the stained-glass Lierre en fleurs window in April 1953, and during the early summer he finalized the grille design for the door. Photographs were sent to Mrs. Lasker in New York; a protracted period of anxious waiting ensued. “Matisse knew that his window could be one of the grandest of his late works,” Russell wrote. “It might be one of the last of them. He did not care to be kept waiting for an answer” (ibid., p. 373). Finally, in October, the artist learned from Pierre that Mrs. Lasker, based on the photograph, had turned down his design for the window. She found instead a place for the maquette in the United Nations headquarters in New York. Hoping to change her mind, Pierre enlisted Frankfurter’s support, and had both maquettes shipped to New York.
There was again a delayed response. Then, in a formal notice dated 12 March 1954, some sixteen months after the idea of the commission had first been raised, Mrs. Lasker’s attorneys declared that the project would be taken no further—the matter was closed. No explanation was offered. Under provisions in the original agreement, Matisse would be compensated at the specified fraction of the full fee. Mary Lasker in 1963 gifted the maquette for Lierre en fleur to the Dallas Museum of Art. Marguerite Duthuit in 1956 authorized Paul Bony, the master glazier who had executed all of Matisse’s late stained-glass works, to create Lierre en fleur just as the artist intended it; she sold the window in 1962 to the Museum Moderner Kunst, Foundation Ludwig, Vienna.
Matisse created two more maquettes for stained-glass window projects prior to his death in November 1954. He designed in late 1953 La Vigne, a tall stained-glass window to be installed in front of an existing, turn-of-the-century wrought-iron grille in the stairwell of Pierre and Patricia Matisse’s home in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferat. Bony fabricated the window in the following year. The artist’s final project was Rosace, a rose window that Nelson A. Rockefeller commissioned for the Union Church in Pocantico Hills, New York. Matisse completed the maquette only days before his death; Bony executed the window for Rockefeller in 1956.

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