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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Anémones au miroir noir

Details
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Anémones au miroir noir
signed 'Henri Matisse' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 ¾ x 21 ¼ in. (67.9 x 53.8 cm.)
Painted in Nice, 1919
Provenance
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 20 March 1919).
Galerie de l'Art Moderne, Paris (acquired from the above, 29 April 1927).
Valentine Gallery (Valentine Dudensing), New York.
The Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D.C. (acquired from the above, 1927).
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, February 1947).
The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 11 June 1947); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 1998, lot 32.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 7 November 2001, lot 17.
David Tunkl Fine Art, Los Angeles.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 6 March 2007.
Literature
E. Faure, History of Art: Modern Art, New York, 1926, p. 467 (illustrated; titled Flowers).
D. Phillips, The Artist Sees Differently, New York, 1931 (illustrated, pl. CXXI; titled Anemones and Mirror).
A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, pp. 205, 207 and 544, note 6.
M. Vaughan, "Matisse, The Brilliant Designer" in Reader's Digest Family Treasury of Great Painters and Great Paintings, New York, 1965, p. 28 (illustrated in color; titled The Anemones and the Mirror).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, vol. II, p. 725, no. 269 (illustrated).
A. Maillet, The Claude Glass: Use and Meaning of the Black Mirror in Western Art, London, 2009, p. 127 (illustrated in color, fig. 10.5) .
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Oeuvres récentes d'Henri Matisse, May 1919, no. 32 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., The Phillips Memorial Gallery, Leaders of French Art Today, December 1927-January 1928 (illustrated; titled Poppies and Mirror).
New York, The Century Club, 1930.
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, An Exhibition of a Selected Group of Paintings from the Phillips Memorial Gallery, April-May 1930, no. 13 (titled Poppies and Mirror).
Rochester Museum of Art, circa 1930.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse Retrospective Exhibition, November-December 1931, p. 50, no. 51 (illustrated, p. 93; titled Anemones and Mirror and dated circa 1920).
Providence, Rhode Island School of Design, Henri Matisse, December 1931, p. 8, no. 23 (titled Anemones and Mirror and dated circa 1920).
Pennsylvania Museum of Art, Flowers in Art, April-May 1933 (titled Anemonies and Mirror).
Cambridge, Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, French Painting of the XIX and XX Centuries, July-August 1941, p. 5 (titled Anemones and Mirror).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Paintings, 1898-1939, February 1943, no. 11 (titled Les Anémones).
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Gallery; Cincinnati Art Museum; St. Louis, The City Art Museum and Washington, D.C., French Embassy, French Paintings of the Twentieth Century, December 1944-Spring 1945, p. 53, no. 41 (titled Anémones et Miroir).
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Reader's Digest Collection, May-June 1963, p. 22 (illustrated in color; titled Anemones and Mirror and dated 1920).
Tokyo, Palaceside Building, Forty Paintings from the Reader's Digest Collection, October 1966, p. 26, no. 18 (illustrated in color; titled Anemone and Mirror and dated 1920).
New York, Wildenstein & Co., Inc.; St. Paul; Detroit; Chicago; Stuttgart; London, Wildenstein & Co., Ltd.; Milan and Paris, Musée Marmottan, Selections from the Reader's Digest Collection, September 1985-April 1986, p. 38 (illustrated in color, p. 39; detail illustrated, p. 38; titled Anemones and Mirror and dated circa 1920).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Henri Matisse: The Early Years in Nice, 1916-1930, November 1986-March 1987, p. 128, no. 55 (illustrated in color, pl. 79).
Auckland City Art Gallery, the Reader's Digest Collection: Manet to Picasso, March-May 1989, p. 94 (illustrated in color; titled Anemones and Mirror and dated circa 1920).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, September 1992-January 1993, p. 310, no. 230 (illustrated in color).

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Max Carter
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Lot Essay

Georges Matisse has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

In December 1918, just a month after the Armistice ending the First World War was signed, Matisse traveled south to Nice for the second consecutive winter, inaugurating a decade-long pattern of seasonal peregrinations that would beget a wholesale transformation in his artistic vision. The previous year, he had taken a room at the modest Hôtel Beau-Rivage in the old quarter of the city. Now, he upgraded to the Hôtel Méditerranée et de la Côte d’Azur on the ritzy promenade des Anglais, where he would lodge for three working seasons.
The artist’s first room in his new choice of a hotel boasted Italianate décor and a balcony overlooking the sea; in a corner beside the French doors was a small dressing table with an oval, gilt-framed mirror and a muslin skirt. “The table became an important compositional element for Matisse,” Jack Cowart has written, “and he began a faithful, almost poetic relationship with it, portraying the glass often mysteriously black, sometimes crosshatched or fully reflecting. This table became the room’s inhabitant, with or without the model” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 24).
In the present still life, painted during Matisse’s early months at the Hôtel Mediterranée and sold to Bernheim-Jeune in March 1919, the dressing table and its accoutrements serve as a potent means of disrupting pictorial convention. The composition centers upon the dialogue between the oval mirror and a bouquet of anemones. Instead of reflecting an image back, the mirror, painted black, deepens the background of the interior and allows the blossoms seemingly to float in space.
Though the still-life arrangement is carefully balanced, the eye is drawn repeatedly to the flowers that bloom before the mirror’s blank surface, their coloristic vibrancy heightened by contrast with the inky darkness. Black, in this way, becomes a vehicle for conveying light rather than shadow. “When you put black on the canvas it stays in its plane,” Renoir famously lauded Matisse. “All my life, I thought that one couldn’t use it without breaking the chromatic unity of the surface. As for you, using a colored vocabulary, you introduce black and it holds” (quoted in ibid., p. 20).
When Matisse arrived in Nice in late 1918, he was at a pivotal moment of reassessment and renewal in his career. “My idea is to push further and deeper into true painting,” he wrote to his wife Amélie on 13 January 1919 (quoted in H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, New York, 2007, p. 223). During the First World War, he had come close to pure abstraction in a series of monumental, radically austere canvases; now, nearing age fifty and with his reputation as a leader of the avant-garde firmly established, he was determined to reconquer the ground that he had given up along the way.
“I first worked as an Impressionist, directly from nature; I later sought concentration and more intense expression both in line and color,” he explained to an interviewer back in Paris that June, “and then, of course, I had to sacrifice other values to a certain degree, corporeality and spatial depth, the richness of detail. Now I want to combine it all” (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 75-76).
The Hôtel Mediterranée provided Matisse with a fertile, expansive environment for these artistic experiments. “An old and good hotel!” he recounted. “I stayed there four years [1918-1921] for the pleasure of painting. Do you remember the light we had through the shutters? It came from below as if from theater footlights. Everything was fake, absurd, amazing, delicious” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, p. 24). In the present painting, one of the muslin curtains that flanked the French doors is visible at far left; sunlight filters through the sheer white fabric and falls across the dressing table, glinting on the glass vase and creating a patchwork of light and shadow.
This material luminosity—“a light so soft and tender, despite its brilliance,” Matisse wrote to Charles Camoin in 1918—is here contrasted with the black surface of the mirror, which generates an abstract radiance that seems to emanate from the painting itself. The mirror establishes the internal plane of the picture, in counterpoint to the recessive foreground space that contains the floral bouquet. “A will to rhythmic abstraction was battling with my natural, innate desire for rich, warm, generous colors and forms, in which the arabesque strove to establish its supremacy,” Matisse later recalled. “From this duality issued works that, overcoming my inner constraints, were realized in the union of poles” (interview with André Verdet, 1951 in J. Flam, ed., op. cit., 1995, p. 272).
The present canvas is the largest of three contemporaneous still lifes in which Matisse juxtaposed the iconic oval mirror with a slender, elongated glass vase. In one variant, the mirror naturalistically reflects the interior of the artist’s hotel room; in the other, not only the mirror but the entire ground is painted solid black (see exh. cat., op. cit., 1986, pls. 78 and 80, respectively).
The vase may have been one of the supplied furnishings of the Hôtel Mediterranée or, more likely, an object that Matisse expressly procured in Nice, perhaps attracted by its feminine curves—a stand-in for the live model—or the way that its shape echoed the decorative balustrade of his room’s balcony. Like Cézanne, Matisse had favorite still-life objects that frequently recurred in his repertory of forms, acting as a controlled set of variables that enabled him to test new pictorial solutions. “All my life I worked in front of the same objects,” he explained, “which gave me the force of reality by directing my mind toward all that these objects had gone through for me and with me” (quoted in Matisse in the Studio, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2017, p. 48).

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