Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
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Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

La devideuse picarde (La mère massé dans son intérieur à Bohain)

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
La devideuse picarde (La mère massé dans son intérieur à Bohain)
signed 'Henri Matisse' (lower left); signed 'Matisse' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 5/8 x 18 1/8 in. (54.8 x 46 cm.)
Painted circa 1903
Auguste Matisse (the brother of the artist).
Daric Nielson, Paris; sale, Sotheby's, London, 7 July 1971, lot 16.
Waddington Galleries, London, acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, United Kingdom, probably acquired from the above in circa 1970s and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 February 2014, lot 481.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
G. Diehl, Henri Matisse, Paris, 1954, p. 23.
P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, pp. 188, 192 & 457 (illustrated p. 188; titled 'Picard Spinning Woman').
H. Spurling, The unknown Matisse: a life of Henri Matisse, vol. I, 1869-1908, London, 1998, no. 65, pp. 18-19, 252-253, 270 & 430 (illustrated p. 19).
Paris, Salon d'Automne, 1903, no. 386.
Paris, Galerie Vollard, Exposition des Oeuvres du Peintre Henri Matisse, June 1904, no. 45, n.p.
Paris, Grand Palais, Henri Matisse, Exposition du Centenaire, April - September 1970, no. 50, p. 67 (illustrated p. 137).
Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, Matisse, En retrospectiv udstilling, October - November 1970, no. 12 (illustrated n.p.).
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

La Devideuse picarde (La mère Massé dans son intérieur à Bohain) was likely painted in 1903, during what various art historians - beginning with Alfred H. Barr, Jr. in 1951 – have labelled Henri Matisse’s “dark period” (A. H. Barr, Matisse: His Art and his Public, New York, 1951, p. 49). Barr was primarily referring to the conservatively sombre tonalities that Matisse adopted in his paintings during this period in an effort to make them more attractive to buyers and the Salon jurors. However, with the 1998 publication of Hilary Spurling’s The Unknown Matisse (op. cit.), we now have a more thorough understanding of the difficulties Matisse faced in these years, when darkness penetrated the artist’s life as well as his canvases, and how he overcame them through an unyielding commitment to his art.

By 1903, Matisse had faced an almost ruinous string of adversities. Since 1900, Matisse’s material burdens increased, with three children to support, few sales of his paintings, and his father’s refusal to further support him, partly through disapproval of his artistic choices. In May 1902 the Humbert scandal broke – Frédéric and Thérèse Humbert had for years leveraged their extensive business dealings against a non-existent inheritance, ruining eleven thousand investors who had lost their life savings. Armand and Catherine Parayre, the parents of Matisse’s wife Amélie, both worked for the Humberts and were implicated in the scandal. Their home, Amelie’s shop and Matisse’s studio were searched by police, and Armand Parayre would be arrested and imprisoned for over a month. Amélie’s health suffered and she was forced to close her millinery business, from which the artist’s family derived necessary income. Matisse was forced to take the role of sole breadwinner, family spokesman and defender. In early 1903, in order to take refuge from unrelenting public scorn, and to lighten the burden of stress and financial hardship that had overwhelmed his family, Matisse closed his Paris studio at 19, quai de Saint-Michel and took Amélie and their three children to live with his parents in Bohain-en-Vermandois. There was little escape from their problems, however, as Northern creditors had lost more than any other group of investors, and feelings in the region against the Humberts ran higher than anywhere else in France. More than once during this time, Matisse wrote of his desire to give up painting altogether; had he been a man of lesser will and character, this could have been the end of Matisse’s career as an artist.

Later that spring Matisse moved to a house in Bohain away from his parents, who increasingly disapproved of his choice of career and criticised his inability to properly support his family. Here he made his studio, which, as he finally resumed painting, he depicted in one of his best-known works of this period, L'atelier sous les toits now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. Scholars often point to the nightmarish overtones in its confined, claustrophobic space, and Pierre Schneider sees it as a reflection of the artist’s sense of imprisonment (Schneider op. cit. p. 192). We see this confined spatial perspective and sombre palette repeated in La Devideuse picarde. The sitter was identified as la Mere Massé, or Octavie Massé in a note by Auguste Matisse, the artist’s brother and first owner of the painting (Archives Matisse, Paris). She lived on the Rue Peu d’Aise opposite Matisse’s father’s seed store when the artist was a boy, and the families were well acquainted – Matisse also painted the sitter’s grandson and made two paintings of her daughter. Painting the woman at her spinning wheel, wearing the regional white cap, the cluttered interior shows the makeshift workroom typical to the homes of the working class of Bohain. An attempt at a traditional Flemish genre scene, the work is testament to Matisse’s desire to steer his art back on a traditional course, ‘so that a good purge will clear away the vegetation, weeds or otherwise, that is foreign to my nature and that I will have picked up along the way; and then I will be able to present a calm and smiling face to the crowd of art-lovers who do not care for anxious and tormented artists.’ (Matisse, letter to Simon Bussy, 31 July 1903, quoted in Schneider op. cit., p. 190). The present lot is one of two works Matisse presented at the first Salon d’Automne in October 1903, and would then be exhibited in the gallery of Ambroise Vollard, one of the most important dealers in French contemporary art at the turn of the twentieth century, crucial to the exposure of artists like Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin. La Devideuse picarde offers a glimpse at the lesser-known Matisse; one year later the artist would escape to the South and resume experimentation in his work, leading to his radical breakthrough in 1905 which would result in his revolutionary Fauve canvases.

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