Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Oliviers à Collioure

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Oliviers à Collioure
signed ‘H. Matisse’ (lower center)
oil and black ink on canvas
18 x 21 3/4 in. (45.7 x 55.3 cm.)
Painted in 1905
The artist’s estate.
Jean Matisse, Paris, by descent from the above, until circa 1962.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 3790).
Pietra Campili, by whom acquired from the above, in 1965; sale, Sotheby’s, London, 26 June 2001, lot 11.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
A. H. Barr, Matisse, His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 318 (illustrated).
G. Marchiori, Matisse, New York, 1967, no. 10, p. 133 (illustrated p. 15).
M. Luzi, L’opera di Matisse, dalla rivolta ‘fauve’ all’intimismo, 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 36, p. 86 (illustrated p. 87).
J. Flam, Matisse, The Man and His Art, 1869-1918, New York, 1986, pp. 124-125 (illustrated p. 127; titled ‘Madame Matisse in the Olive Grove’).
Exh. cat., Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1992, p. 53 (illustrated fig. 27; titled 'Mme Matisse in the Olive Grove' and dated '1905').
Exh. cat., Matisse-Derain: Collioure 1905, un été fauve, Céret, 2005, no. 118, n.p. (illustrated; titled ‘Madame Matisse dans les oliviers’).
R. Labrusse & J. Munck, Matisse-Derain, La vérité du fauvisme, p. 200 (illustrated fig. 21, p. 37; titled ‘Madame Matisse dans les oliviers II’).
Exh. cat., Matisse: In Search of True Painting, New York, 2012, p. 4 (illustrated fig. 2; titled ‘Madame Matisse in the Olive Grove’).
Lucerne, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Henri Matisse, July - October 1949, no. 32, p. 28 (dated '1906').
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Exposition Henri Matisse, Peintures, dessins, gouaches, sculptures, gravures, July - September 1961, no. 5, p. 17 (dated ‘1906’).
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Les Fauves, 1962, no. 99, n.p..
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.
Further details

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

‘What I dream of is an art of expression […] expression for me, is not the passion that bursts forth on a face or demonstrates itself in a violent movement. It exists throughout my whole painting.’ Henri Matisse (quoted in J.-L. Ferrier, The Fauves: The Reign of Colour, Paris, 1992, p. 23).

‘The search for colour did not come to me from studying other paintings, but from the outside – that is to say from the light of nature’ Henri Matisse (quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 209).

‘In art, truth and reality begin when you no longer understand anything you do or know…’ Matisse (quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 210).

Painted during one of the most crucial creative moments in Henri Matisse’s entire career, Oliviers à Collioure illustrates the highly experimental nature of the artist’s work during the seminal summer he spent in secluded seaside town of Collioure. It was here, surrounded by the luminous colours and rich fecundity of the untamed natural landscape of the southern coastline of France, that Matisse began to boldly push beyond the established boundaries of art and experiment with a more spontaneous, expressive means of painting. Focusing on the form of a lone woman as she wanders through a grove of olive trees, the scene is rendered in a flurry of vibrantly coloured brushstrokes, each touch of paint capturing the fervour and energy that Matisse felt before the landscape. The entire summer was devoted to investigating the visual potential of the pointillist language, with the artist exploring and playing with the central tenets of Neo-Impressionism in a series of experiments that would prove fundamental to the development of Fauvism. Indeed, as John Elderfield has explained, Neo-Impressionism was ‘the foundation of Fauvism – but the foundation that Matisse dismantled in order to create Fauvism’ (J. Elderfield, Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1992, p. 50). Collioure, with its dramatic play of light and vibrant colours, played a fundamental role in this period of experimentation, feeding Matisse’s imagination and inspiring him to embark upon this revolutionary new path.

Matisse’s first experiences of the Mediterranean coast came in the summer of 1904, when he had spent an extended sojourn in Saint-Tropez, visiting the painter Paul Signac. That June had seen Matisse’s first one-man show open at the Ambroise Vollard gallery, featuring forty-five paintings and one drawing which encapsulated the full range of his oeuvre up to this point. While his work drew complements from the critic Roger Marx, the exhibition was not as commercially successful as the artist had hoped. Despondent and unsure of his next steps, Matisse departed Paris for the summer. Arriving in the South in mid-July with his wife and young son, Matisse felt the impact of his new surroundings immediately. A native of Northern France, he was bowled over by the bright light and bold colours of the sun drenched Midi, as well as the variety of sub-tropical flora which filled the rolling hills as they descended towards the sea. These new surroundings slowly began to shape and influence Matisse’s paintings, brightening his palette, introducing a new sense luminosity to his pigments, and reviving his interest in Neo-Impressionism.

Although reluctant at first to submit his painting to the methodical, rigorous techniques of the pointillist style zealously espoused by Signac, by the end of the summer the artist had begun to construct his compositions using small dots of carefully layered pigment. The richly coloured canvas Le goûter (Le golfe de Saint-Tropez, 1904 (Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf), created during this summer sojourn and depicting the artist’s wife and son in front of the town’s iconic bay, clearly illustrates the beginnings of this shift in Matisse’s approach, which would ultimately lead to his renowned composition Luxe, calme et volupté, 1904 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), painted on his return to Paris that autumn. Explaining the appeal of Neo-Impressionism at this stage in his career, Matisse later wrote: ‘The simplification of form to its fundamental geometric shapes, as interpreted by Seurat, was the great innovation of that day. This new technique made a great impression on me. Painting had at last been reduced to a scientific formula; it was the secession from the empiricism of the preceding eras’ (Matisse, quoted in J. Elderfield, Matisse in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978, p. 36). The following summer, Matisse returned to the inspiring landscapes of the South of France in the hope of finding inspiration once again, settling in Collioure from May to September. The trip proved revelatory for Matisse, ushering in experiments in which he pushed the Neo-Impressionist style to its very limits, and began to investigate the expressive properties of independent colour.

Describing the inherent appeal of Collioure, a local wine-grower Paul Soulier wrote: ‘One is struck above all by the bright light, and by colours so strong and so harmonious that they possess you like an enchantment’ (P. Soulier, quoted in H. Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, Volume One: 1869 - 1908, London, 1998, p. 300). Indeed, it appears to have been these aspects of the picturesque hamlet on the Catalan coast which fascinated Matisse most upon his arrival. This secluded seaside town, framed by rolling hills on one side and the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean on the other, had remained an isolated outpost until the arrival of the coastal railway in the late nineteenth century. Apart from Signac, who had stopped briefly in the town on his way to Saint-Tropez over a decade previously, Matisse was the first artist to base himself in Collioure, renting rooms at the Hôtel de la Gare by the station. Unused to visitors, the locals appear to have been suspicious of the fair-haired stranger when he first arrived. Undeterred, Matisse began to work in this vibrant environment, absorbing the hustle and bustle of the busy port, the play of life as it unfolded on the streets, and the rich exotic flora, from banana and date palms to figs, oranges and lemons, that filled the lush landscape. The first few weeks seem to have been taken up mainly by explorations into his new surroundings, with the artist reporting that he had only completed two small oil sketches by the start of June. The family quickly fell into the relaxed rhythms of life in Collioure, travelling to a nearby bay each morning to swim, before wandering back to their lodgings through the wild landscape around the town. It may have been on one such walk among the olive trees that the inspiration for the present composition struck the artist, as he spotted his wife on the path ahead of him, sheltering from the sun under her parasol.

The preliminary network of lines with which Matisse captured the scene remain clearly visible on the canvas, their thin, sinuous forms delineating the distinctive profiles of the olives trees, the line of the path as it meanders through the landscape, and the statuesque figure of his wife, Amélie, in the distance. The artist then began to add colour to the scene, applying short, sharp, staccato strokes of pure pigment to create a glittering mosaic effect, in which each brushstroke is seen as an independent, autonomous mark, floating against the white ground of the canvas. Eschewing the rigorous, calculated, overlapping patterns of Signac’s signature style, Matisse adopted an uninhibited, direct response to nature in this canvas, laying down his brushstrokes with a new spontaneity that captured the energy and vitality he felt before the landscape. Freeing his colours from their traditionally descriptive role, Matisse adopts a palette of bold, non-mimetic pigments, rendering the sky in an array of raspberry pinks, the trunks of the cypress trees in a network of cobalt blues and crimson reds, and the lush grasses in notes of burnt orange and sunshine yellow. As Matisse later explained, ‘working before a soul-stirring landscape, all I thought of was making my colours sing, without paying any heed to rules and regulations’ (Matisse, quoted in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 203).

The historical significance of Oliviers à Collioure lies in its relation to another painting from the 1905 summer at Collioure – Promenade des oliviers. Echoing one another in size, subject and vibrancy, these twin canvases reveal the conflicting impulses which occupied the artist at this pivotal moment in his career. Creating two opposing versions of the same motif, one in which he followed the principles of Neo-Impressionism as laid out by Signac, and another in which he took liberties with the formula, these two compositions show Matisse clearly assessing the latest developments in his style, charting his progress and analysing the merits of the opposing pathways that lay before him. While Oliviers à Collioure uses the constructive, dabbed brushstrokes of his loose approach to pointillism, Promenade dans les oliviers has an expressionistic vigour, filled with vigorous strokes of pigment that flow together to form large patches of colour. In this groundbreaking pair of canvases Matisse took his first decisive steps towards Fauvism, achieving an expressive, heightened play of colour and form that acts as a prelude to the revolutionary aesthetic he would achieve by the end of the summer.

Shortly after the present work was created, Matisse was joined in Collioure by his young friend and artistic colleague André Derain, who caused a stir upon his arrival with his bohemian dress and bold, outspoken manner. During the weeks that followed, both artists would reach new heights of expressive intensity in their work, forging the radical style that would earn them the moniker of Les Fauves (The Wild Beasts) at the 1905 Salon d’Automne. The two artists often worked side by side during the day, followed by heated debates in the evening, which always revolved around the subject of colour. ‘We were at that time like children in the face of nature and we let our temperaments speak,’ Matisse recalled, ‘even to the point of painting from the imagination when nature herself could not be used’ (Matisse, quoted in S. Whitfield, Fauvism, London, 1996, p. 62). As such, the paintings executed during this inaugural summer at Collioure are counted among the most daring works of Matisse’s oeuvre, as he discovered a new means of representing the world.

More from Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

View All
View All