HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
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HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)

Bateau camouflé au port de Marseille

HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
Bateau camouflé au port de Marseille
signed 'H Matisse' (lower right)
oil on cradled panel
11 x 14 1⁄8 in. (28 x 36 cm.)
Painted in 1917
Pierre Matisse, New York (by descent from the artist).
Pierre-Noël Matisse, Paris (by descent from the above); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 4 November 2010, lot 472.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
A. Blaugrund, ed., Charting New Waters: Redefining Marine Painting, Winona, 2013, pp. 102 and 115, fig. 42 (illustrated in color, p. 103).
Paris, Petit Palais, Les Maîtres de l’Art Indépendant, 1895-1937, June-October 1937, no. 58 (dated 1916 and titled Bateau camouflé au port de Marseille).
Tokyo and Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art; Osaka City Museum and Kurashiki, Ohara Museum of Art, Henri Matisse, March-June 1951, no. 40 (illustrated; dated 1916).
Washington, National Gallery of Art, The Early Years in Nice, November 1986-March 1987, p. 93 (illustrated in color, pl. 41; dated 1917 and titled Deux barques dans le port de Marseilles).
Winona, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 2010-2022 (on extended loan).
Further details
The late Wanda de Guébriant confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Lot Essay

In the first years of World War I, Matisse’s art came as close to pure abstraction as it ever would. By 1916, he had created a batch of works so far ahead of public taste and critical comprehension that some would not be fully understood for decades to come. Having emerged triumphantly from the most trying phase of his career, Matisse was now determined to reconquer some of the ground that he had been forced to give up along the way. As Jack Flam noted “Now, having become a great modernist, he turned again to the complex visual stimulation of landscapes to free himself of old habits and let the masters of nineteenth-century French landscape painting guide him back to the appearance of the real world from which his work had become progressively removed" (J. Flam, Matisse, The Man and His Art 1869-1918, London, 1986, pp. 461-462). In 1917, Matisse began to move into this new artistic phase and Marseille marked the beginning of an important step in this transition.
On the 17th of December, Matisse left Paris in haste and caught an overnight train to Marseille. He was worried about his son Jean, who had been recruited to fight in the war and had just been posted to a camp in Istres, west of Marseille. Matisse had to wait four days for permission to see his son and appeased his impatience by experimenting with a new portable paint-box, producing two views of the port and two tiny portraits of the critic George Besson, who was staying in a neighboring hotel. Once he was able to visit Jean, Matisse was shocked by the precarious conditions in which the soldiers were living at the Istres camp. He took his son to Marseilles for the day and treated him to civilian delights of shops, cafés and the local music hall.
Matisse caught a cold and decided to retreat to the sheltered bay of Nice, within easy reach of Jean. He arrived in Nice on Christmas day of 1917 and took a small room at the modest sea-front tel du Beau Rivage. In January he wrote his wife that work was going so well it would be a mistake to leave. Years later he would recall “what made me stay was the great colored reflections of January, the luminosity of the days [...] I decided not to leave Nice and I’ve been there practically ever since” (H. Spurling, Matisse, The Life, London, 2009, pp. 300 and 302).
The present work is one of the two port scenes Matisse painted while waiting to see his son Jean in Marseille. Although remaining naturalistic, Matisse’s simplified shapes and applications of pure color make for an extremely modern representation. With rapid and instinctive strokes of paint, Matisse is able to convey the engulfing Marseille wind with great expressivity. The Mediterranean light seeps through, brightening Matisse’s palette and foreshadowing his more colorful and luminous Nice period. Yet, Matisse’s choice of bold colors, black outlines and his forceful brushwork reflect the strenuous state he must have been in at the time, fearing for his country, his son and his art. This work was made at a pivotal time in Matisse’s artistic career but also at an incredibly stressful moment in his personal life, making for a unique, intimate and significant picture.

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