Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)


Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
signed 'Henri Matisse' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25 1/8 x 20 in. (64 x 51 cm.)
Painted in 1896
Jules Thénard, Paris (acquired from the artist); Estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 17 December 1919, lot 74.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired at the above sale).
L. Marseille, Paris (acquired from the above, October 1920).
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (1962).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, March 1963.
L. Gowing, Matisse, London, 1979, p. 13 (titled Nature morte aux raisins).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, p. 247, no. 89 (illustrated; titled Still Life with Grapes).
P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 37 (titled Still Life with Grapes).
G.-P. and M. Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, vol. I, p. 276, no. 3 (illustrated, p. 277).
Paris, Grand Palais, Henri Matisse, Exposition du centenaire, April-September 1970, p. 107, no. 6 (illustrated; illustrated again in color in catalogue supplement; titled Nature morte aux raisins).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective, September 1992-January 1993, p. 83 (illustrated in color, p. 92, pl. 6; titled Still Life with Grapes).
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Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Matisse painted this delicate tabletop still-life, resplendent in silvery-grays and greens, in 1896, the year that saw his successful debut on the Parisian art stage—a professional artist at long last, engaged in realizing on canvas his singular conception of the world. Four years earlier, at age 22, he had joined the studio of Gustave Moreau, the hub for the most independent and forward-thinking students at the famously traditional École des Beaux-Arts. After an extended period of apprenticeship in which he focused on copying Old Master canvases at the Louvre, Matisse began in 1895 to paint original still-life compositions—seeking, he later recalled, “the gradations of tone in the silver scale, dear to the Dutch masters, the possibility of learning how to make light sing in a muted harmony” (quoted in J. Elderfield, Matisse, New York, 1978, p. 26). In early 1896, Moreau approved Matisse’s plan to submit to the Salon and even came personally to inspect his work beforehand, a privilege reserved for few and favored pupils.
“We spent an exquisite hour,” Matisse’s friend Henri Evenepoel recounted. “Matisse showed his submission, a dozen canvases, delicious in tone, nearly all still-lifes, which provided the starting point for discussions of everything to do with art” (quoted in H. Spurling, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Early Years, New York, 1998, p. 110).
For his first public foray, Matisse opted for the recently founded Salon de la Nationale—not as progressive as the Indépendants but far less conservative than the hoary Salon des Artistes Français. The jury accepted four of his paintings, which by all accounts constituted a brilliant showing. Two still-lifes found private buyers—a retired dairy wholesaler named Jules Thénard, who subsequently acquired the present canvas as well, and a Parisian textile merchant, Jules Saulnier—while a domestic interior went to the French State. Just before the Salon closed, Matisse was elected an associate member of the Société Nationale, quite an honor for the promising newcomer.
The latter half of 1896 brought still more change—most importantly, Matisse’s transformative introduction to modernism. During a summer sojourn in Brittany, the Australian painter John Russell tutored Matisse in Impressionist theories of light and color, in particular the innovations of Monet. At the same time, Matisse began to realize the limits of pure illusionism in conveying his received sensations before the motif. “What interested me was the rapport that my contemplation created between the objects I was looking at,” he later explained. “And I had to invent something that would render the equivalent of my sensation—a kind of communion of feeling between the objects placed in front of me” (quoted in J. Flam, Matisse: The Man and His Art, Ithaca, 1986, p. 41).
Matisse may have painted the present still-life in the months leading up to his success at the Salon or, perhaps more likely, following his return to Paris in mid-October after the summer’s revelations—the same time that he began work on the monumental La Desserte, the apogee of his first period of still-life work. While the nuanced tonal harmonies, textural variety, and diagonally placed knife in the present composition reveal the enduring influence of Chardin, Matisse had begun by now to free his touch from the description of objects as such to emphasize the way in which they were made visible by light. The velvety fruit seems to absorb the bright light of the studio, while the half-full water glass reflects it back in loose and lively glints; freely brushed passages of white light and blue shadow play over the surface of the tablecloth, echoing the hues of the Delft pitcher, a nod to the lingering influence of Dutch realism.
Jules Thénard kept this luminous still-life until his death in 1919, despite a certain derision from his highly conventional family and friends. When Matisse offered him another canvas in 1899, Thénard reluctantly refused. “If I took it home, they’d have me hung up before a family tribunal!” (quoted in H. Spurling, op. cit., 1999, p. 170). Peggy and David Rockefeller acquired the present painting in 1963. “At Alfred Barr’s suggestion,” David Rockefeller recounted, “we paid our first visit to the Pierre Matisse Gallery. There we saw this very early Matisse still-life, which is more reminiscent of Impressionist paintings than of his later work. This exceptionally beautiful painting hung for a number of years behind my desk in my office at Chase” (quoted in M. Porter et al., op. cit., 1984, p. 247).

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