Jackie Matisse inherited paintings and drawings by her famous grandfather Henri but also collected works by her gilded circle of friends, which included some of the 20th century’s greatest artists
When Jacqueline Matisse Monnier was around 16 her grandfather Henri Matisse made a charcoal sketch of her. In the drawing, Jacqueline’s face is a perfect oval, her eyes are wide and inquiring, while the beginning of a tiny smile plays about her mouth.
It is the portrait of a girl with the world at her feet. The Second World War had recently ended and Jackie, as she became known, would spend the rest of her long life (she died last year aged 90) in thrall to art, both as a maker and collector.
The sketch from 1947 is one of 78 lots in the Collection Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, which will be auctioned at Christie’s Paris on 13 April. It is characteristic of a collection in which every piece of work has a personal story behind it.
These stories relate not only to her family but also to the stable of major 20th-century European artists represented by her father, Pierre, in New York, as well as the many artist friends Jackie made and whose work she collected.
The collection includes works by Henri Matisse, Alberto and Diego Giacometti, Joan Miró (Jackie’s godfather), Jean Dubuffet, Yves Tanguy, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint Phalle and François-Xavier Lalanne. There are also several works by Marcel Duchamp, who became Jackie’s stepfather after he married her mother, Alexina ‘Teeny’ Sattler, in 1954, following Teeny’s divorce from Pierre.
From 1961 to 1971 Jackie worked on the construction of Duchamp’s boîtes-en-valises — a series of leather-bound cases that contained miniature reproductions of the artist’s most famous works.
Two late-period boîtes-en-valises are included in the sale. One of Jackie’s three sons, Robert Monnier, believes this project, which required considerable manual dexterity, encouraged his mother to create her own ‘flying art’ — kites of vivid colours with long patterned tails, which she showed in exhibitions across the US and Europe.
‘I think she was an artist to the marrow of her bones,’ says Jackie’s only daughter, Caty Shannon. ‘It eventually became apparent because she lived in that environment. But I think she was always an artist from the time she was a little girl. She couldn’t help it.’
Jackie was born in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1931, but she grew up in New York. In the same year she was born her father opened the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the Fuller Building on East 57th Street, and her grandfather was the subject of MoMA’s first monographic exhibition.
She spent her childhood surrounded by the work of artists like Giacometti, Balthus and Miró, whose work her father was introducing to the American public. She attended the Brearley School for girls, where one of her fellow pupils was the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who became a lifelong friend.
After the war Jackie returned to Paris, where she studied literature at the Sorbonne. She would often visit the studio and home of the sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, who had taught Jackie’s mother when she was a student at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
Back in New York, Jackie met Bernard Monnier, a young French banker, who she married in 1954. They moved to Paris, where Bernard worked in the family bank and Jackie looked after their four children.
They began to fill their home, a large apartment on rue du Bac in the seventh arrondissement, with works of art. ‘A part of the collection had been owned by our grandfather, Pierre, and my mother inherited those works,’ says their son Antoine. ‘Some other works were received following the death of her grandfather, Henri, or as wedding presents.’
The two top lots in the upcoming sale are among those legacies: Matisse’s large-scale oil and Conté crayon Nymphe et faune rouge (1939) and Alberto Giacometti’s painted bronze sculpture Petit buste d’homme (1950).
Robert has vivid memories of eating family dinners beneath Océanie, le mer (1946), a limited-series serigraph print on beige linen inspired by Matisse’s memories of a 1930 voyage to Tahiti.
For Antoine Lebouteiller, Head of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie’s France, Océanie, le mer and its related composition, Océanie, le ciel (1946), are highlights of the upcoming sale. These works, which were based on paper maquettes of Tahitian flora and fauna, are one of the earliest examples of Matisse using cut-outs. ‘The last serigraph of Océanie we sold was in 2012 in London,’ says Lebouteiller. At the time it sold for about £3 million, so we are already seeing a lot of interest in these two works.’
Jackie and Bernard also began to buy art or receive gifts from their growing circle of artist friends. ‘There was a major group of post-war artists, including Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Daniel Spoerri and Martial Raysse, who were known as the Nouveaux Réalistes, and they were all really close to Jacqueline,’ says Lebouteiller.
Antoine Monnier remembers his parents buying one of Saint Phalle’s most controversial works, Autel O.A.S. (1962-92), which is now in Nice’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The metal-plated altar took its title from the Organisation Armée Secrète, a right-wing terrorist group that opposed Algerian independence — something Saint Phalle was outspokenly in favour of. ‘My parents bought it very early on,’ says Antoine. ‘Not everyone would have done that because it was very provocative, with weapons and crosses stuck to it.’
The Monniers also supported Martial Raysse when his figurative painting was deeply unfashionable. ‘I remember when he came into our apartment — he was like a Marxist coming into a very bourgeois home,’ says Robert. ‘But he and my parents became friends. I suppose that friendships were a very important element in how most of this collection came to Jackie.’
For Flavien Gaillard, Head of Design at Christie’s France, there is a playfulness to the collection. This is apparent in a pair of Etoile lamp stands (1933-4) by Alberto Giacometti, and a bronze Porte-manteaux au hibou (1965) by his brother Diego. ‘The coat rack with the owl is a very poetic object,’ Gaillard says. ‘All Diego’s life he was influenced by wooden toys and small animals. He took this memory of his childhood and incorporated it into the furniture he made. You don’t very often see a coat rack by Diego Giacometti. The last one that came to auction sold for more than a million euros.’
Bath-time also proved to be an artistic event for Jackie’s children, who delighted at being able to splash around in a bright blue hippopotamus. Hippopotame I (1968-9), another highlight of the upcoming sale, was a prototype moulded from polyester resin by the French designer François-Xavier Lalanne.
Lalanne and his wife Claude, who worked as a creative duo, originally sold Hippopotame I to Teeny, who was a close friend and neighbour. But before long it was installed in Jackie’s apartment, and her children commandeered it.
‘The Monniers became very close friends with the Lalannes,’ says Gaillard. ‘I think they shared a love for this Surrealist animal, which you can see as part of a figurative narrative that runs throughout their collection. It’s important to note that the Lalanne and the Giacomettis are very sculptural pieces.’
They were certainly not just to look at. ‘As children, we always had a very tactile relationship with these works of art,’ recalls Shannon. Her brother Nicolas concurs. ‘We were lucky to develop an intimate relationship with these works of art,’ he says. ‘It was a way of teaching us to catch beauty with our eyes wherever it was. It was not always in works of art, but in simple objects like ready-mades and objects from nature.’
A lesser-known aspect of Jackie’s artistic practice was her habit of taking home objects she discovered on the streets of Paris. ‘She would collect things such as metro tickets, crumpled cigarette packets and packets of matches, and would then make things from them,’ recalls Robert. ‘We got an interest in things found by chance. Growing up, all of us were influenced by this aspect of Jackie’s personality.’