Rediscovered: this André Derain portrait of Henri Matisse and their fellow artist Etienne Terrus

Painted in the summer of 1905 in Collioure — where Derain professed himself ‘overwhelmed’ by the intense light and vibrant colours of the Midi — Matisse et Terrus was gifted to the latter, and subsequently dropped off the art-historical radar. Its companion, Portrait of Henri Matisse, hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

André Derain (1880-1954), Matisse et Terrus, 1905 (detail). Oil on canvas. 15⅞ x 21⅜ in (40.3 x 54.3 cm). Sold for €3,186,000 on 9 April 2024 at Christie's in Paris

On 25 June 1905, Henri Matisse penned his friend André Derain an animated letter from the south of France. ‘I cannot insist too strongly that a stay here is absolutely necessary for your work — you would find yourself in the best possible conditions,’ he wrote. ‘I am certain that if you take my advice, you’ll be glad of it.’

Derain himself didn’t need much convincing, struggling as he was at that time to find artistic inspiration and suffering from a nervous condition known as neurasthenia. Even his parents — who had hitherto shown bourgeois disdain for his choice of an artistic career — were happy for him to travel. Perhaps they were won over by Matisse’s prediction that Derain ‘would reap pecuniary advantages from the work [he] could do’ in the Midi.

Early in July, the 25-year-old duly set out from his home town of Chatou, outside Paris, and headed south to meet his 35-year-old friend. Matisse had been holidaying in the fishing village of Collioure with his wife and two sons since May. Located near the Spanish border, in the département of Pyrénées-Orientales (sometimes called Northern Catalonia), Collioure was a picturesque and secluded spot nestled between the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean and rolling hills filled with subtropical flora.

The fishing town of Collioure in the Pyrenees-Orientales, close to the Spanish border

The fishing town of Collioure in the Pyrénées-Orientales, France, close to the Spanish border. Photo: APIC / Getty Images

It was here during the summer of 1905 that Derain and Matisse gave birth to the Fauvist movement. A stunning painting from that season — by the former, featuring the latter — is being offered in the Art Impressioniste & Moderne: Oeuvres choisies sale in Paris on 9 April 2024.

Newly rediscovered, Matisse et Terrus (1905), has remained in the same family for its entire existence. It has never been shown publicly and comes to the market for the first time.

Like Derain, Matisse was a native of northern France, and both men were wowed by the intense light and vibrant colours they encountered in Collioure. In a letter to fellow artist Maurice de Vlaminck, who was back in Chatou, Derain wrote in mid-July that he felt joyously ‘overwhelmed’ by his surroundings — adding that ‘I don’t have a second for myself, because I’m working a lot, and it’s monopolising my brain’.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954), André Derain, 1905. Oil on canvas. 39.4 x 28.9 cm. Tate, London. Photo: Tate. Artwork: © Succession H. Matisse / DACS 2024

André Derain (1880-1954), Henri Matisse, 1905. Oil on canvas. 46 x 34.9 cm. Tate, London. Photo: Tate. Artwork: © André Derain, DACS 2024

With the pictures created that summer, he and Matisse took the radical step of subordinating form and descriptive function to the interplay of colours. That is, they painted high-keyed works with no pretence of capturing appearances literally — responding to the subjects in front of them in instinctive or inventive fashion instead. Art exerted its own reality, and that art is today known as Fauvism.

‘All I thought about was making my colours sing, without paying any heed to rules and regulations,’ Matisse said.

Matisse et Terrus is a fine example of Fauvism. It depicts two figures seated most probably at a table at the Café du Racou, on a beach near Collioure. One of these is Matisse (on the left), who sports a red beard, a hat on his head and a pipe in his mouth. A dog lies at his feet, and he’s seen in the act of sketching. The other figure is the artist Etienne Terrus, who hailed from the nearby village of Elne and became a friend to the northern duo over the course of 1905’s summer. Boasting a long beard, Terrus leans his elbow casually on the table and looks calmly at the dog, who returns his gaze.

André Derain (1880-1954), Matisse et Terrus, 1905. Oil on canvas. 15⅞ x 21⅜ in (40.3 x 54.3 cm). Sold for €3,186,000 on 9 April 2024 at Christie's in Paris

To define the setting, Derain used a bright yellow for the beach background, a daring turquoise tone for the sea, and a lilac colour for the terrace. He presents a snapshot of his friends relaxing by the shore, captured by spontaneous brushstrokes of bright pigments.

Terrus, Matisse and Derain had copious conversations about painting in 1905. The local artist also introduced his two visitors to other members of the region’s art scene, such as the sculptor Aristide Maillol and the painter George-Daniel de Monfreid (a friend of Gauguin’s).

Though never a Fauve himself, Terrus certainly liked to use bold colour in his paintings. According to Matisse’s biographer, Hilary Spurling, writing in Matisse the Master (2005), ‘Terrus was revered by Matisse and Derain. Both [would speak] of him in Paris as a great undiscovered artist of the Midi.’

In his mid-forties when he met the northern pair in Collioure, Terrus was, by all accounts, a well-set man, proud of his Catalan roots. He liked to wear a working man’s jacket and the stout shoes of a local wine-grower. According to Maillol, he ‘represented… the land itself, just as his name suggests’ (Terrus deriving from terra, the Latin word for land).

Andre Derain, Portrait of Henri Matisse, 1905, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

André Derain (1880-1954), Portrait of Henri Matisse, 1905. Oil on canvas. 13 x 16⅛ in (33 x 41 cm). The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo: The Philadelphia Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence. Artwork: © André Derain, DACS 2024

Interestingly, Matisse et Terrus has a counterpart painting, today housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a contemporaneous portrait by Derain of Matisse on his own. The subject is portrayed in an almost identical setting, a similar pose and the same clothes as in the picture coming to auction.

Matisse would return to Collioure for several further summers up until the outbreak of the First World War, with Terrus a perennial companion. The two men might go fishing together one day, and attend a theatre production the next. Derain, by contrast, never returned to Collioure after 1905.

He seems to have gifted Matisse et Terrus to the Catalan artist immediately after painting it. As such, it wasn’t one of the numerous works created in the Midi which he and his northern friend took home with them in September 1905 — scores of watercolours and drawings, along with 45 paintings (30 by Derain, 15 by Matisse).

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A selection of these paintings would form the core of the pair’s offerings at that year’s Salon d’Automne in Paris. The gallery that Matisse and Derain shared there was infamously dubbed a cage aux fauves (‘wild beasts’ cage’) by the art critic Louis Vauxcelles, and the term Fauvism was duly coined.

All the while, Matisse et Terrus remained with Terrus in the south. It was mentioned by another of Matisse’s biographers, Raymond Escholier, in his book Matisse, ce vivant (1956), but otherwise seems to have dropped off the art-historical radar — until now. After Terrus died, childless, in 1922, the painting was inherited by his sister, and has since passed by direct descent to its current owner.

The work stands as testament to a friendship between its creator and his two subjects. It also marks a momentous summer in the history of Western art, when an ancient village was converted into a Modernist crucible. Collioure saw Matisse and Derain unleash pure colours on their canvases, and on the world — colours the latter liked to call ‘sticks of dynamite’.

This spring, Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales return to Paris, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist exhibition. Art Impressionniste & Moderne: OEuvres choisies takes place on 9 April 2024, followed by Art Impressionniste and Moderne on 10 April. An online sale, The Collection Sam Josefowitz: Ensemble d’estampes fin de siècle, focuses on Symbolist and Impressionist prints (4-12 April), while on 11 April Man Ray dans la collection Marion Meyer unveils 200 artworks by the artist on the 100th anniversary of André Breton’s 1924 Surrealist Manifesto

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