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

Maquette pour la couverture du catalogue de l'exposition "Henri Matisse, Papiers découpés" chez Berggruen & Cie., 1953

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Maquette pour la couverture du catalogue de l'exposition "Henri Matisse, Papiers découpés" chez Berggruen & Cie., 1953
Front cover: signed 'Matisse' (lower right)
Back cover: signed 'H Matisse' (center)
Each: gouache on cut paper laid down on card
Front cover: 9 1/8 x 4¾ in. (23.2 x 12.2 cm.)
Back cover: 8½ x 4½ in. (21.6 x 11.5 cm.)
Executed in 1952
Heinz Berggruen, Paris (gift from the artist); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 27 April 1960, lot 2.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.
L. Aragon, Henri Matisse, roman, Paris, 1971, vol. II, p. 308.
"Have You the Courage To Be Elegant?" in House & Garden, November 1963, p. 222 (detail illustrated in color in situ).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; The Detroit Institute of Arts and The St. Louis Art Museum, Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, September 1977-March 1978, pp. 82 and 242, no. 197 (illustrated, p. 243; front cover illustrated in color, p. 79, pl. XXIII).

Brought to you by

Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

The paper cut-outs that Matisse executed during the last decade of his life are among the most significant creations of his entire oeuvre. John Elderfield has called these works "an irrefutably major flowering of Matisse's art...of such consummate authority that they can stand beside the best of his paintings" (The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, New York, 1978, p. 10). Between 1944 and 1954, Matisse focused on works from cut paper, ranging in size from whimsical miniatures to dramatic, room-sized creations. Some of these were independent compositions, while others (including the present pair) served as design maquettes for an extraordinary variety of projects, including posters, magazine and catalogue covers, tapestries, rugs, liturgical vestments, stained glass windows, and ceramic tiles. Matisse viewed the cut-outs as a fitting culmination to his long career, synthesizing ideas that had preoccupied him for nearly five decades. He commented in 1951, "From the Joie de vivre (I was thirty-five then) to this cut-out (I am now eighty-two)...I have searched for the same things... There is no break between my early pictures and my cut-outs, except that with greater completeness and abstraction, I have attained a form filtered to its essentials" (quoted in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 207 and 209).

Matisse first experimented with cut paper in 1919, using it to make maquettes for the stage sets and costumes of Léonide Massine's ballet, Le chant du rossignol. He returned to the technique intermittently throughout the 1930s, most notably in the preparatory studies for the great Barnes mural and for a series of book, magazine, and exhibition catalogue covers based on cut-paper designs. An operation for abdominal cancer in 1941 left Matisse seriously weakened, and he increasingly turned to work in cut paper, which was less physically demanding than other media. He began with heavy white drawing paper, which he hand-painted with Linel-brand gouache; he then cut shapes from the paper with scissors, holding the blades wide open to produce a shearing effect. With the help of studio assistants, he pinned the paper fragments to his studio walls, rearranging them until he achieved the desired balance of forms and colors, and finally he glued the various elements to their support. After 1951, Matisse abandoned painting and sculpture altogether, and the paper cut-out became his sole vehicle for artistic expression. Despite his ill health, Matisse viewed this late period as one of intense creativity. He wrote to the painter Albert Marquet, "My terrible operation...has completely rejuvenated and made a philosopher of me. I had so completely prepared for my exit from life, that it seems to me that I am in a second life" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1977, p. 43).

The present cut-outs were executed in 1952, a year that Elderfield has described as "one of the richest years of Matisse's career in the sheer number of important works produced... It was a year that synthesized many of the achievements of an entire career" (op. cit., p. 26). This pair of cut-outs served as the maquettes for the front and back covers of the catalogue that accompanied a landmark exhibition of Matisse's papiers découpés held in February-March 1953 at Berggruen & Cie. in Paris. Although examples of Matisse's cut-outs had been seen publicly alongside works in other media as early as 1949, the Berggruen show was the very first exhibition (and the only one during Matisse's lifetime) to be devoted exclusively to the artist's achievement in cut paper. In addition to designing the catalogue cover, Matisse also made maquettes for a poster advertising the show and an invitation for the opening. Heinz Berggruen, who organized the exhibition, later recalled:

"I was received by Matisse who was propped up in bed looking at me sternly or, rather, scrutinizing me through strong scintillating glasses. I asked him to let me do a show of his paper cut-outs...and to my great joy he agreed. When I saw him again a few days later, he handed me, generously and without saying a word, the covers of the catalogue and of the invitation which he had drawn or, rather, cut out for me" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1977, p. 175).

In the present works, the two blue forms appear to have been cut from the very same sheet of paper, creating positive and negative profile faces (the former used for the front cover of the Berggruen catalogue and the latter for the back). Matisse had experimented with the use of positive and negative profiles intermittently in the preceding years. Two cut-paper compositions from 1947, for instance, feature the positive and negative forms of an unusual hybrid creature, with a plumed human head, a large-nosed profile, and a bird-like body (see ibid., nos. 68-69). In La Danseuse, 1949, the left edge of the central "dancer" shape describes a negative profile, suggesting a head watching the dancer perform; the positive silhouette, in turn, was used in another cut-out of the same year (see ibid., nos. 98-99; also compare no. 190, the cover maquettes for the 1952 book of poems Echos). In all these instances, however, the profile is ringed with a cluster of curvilinear, acanthus-like forms, creating the effect of an elaborate headdress. In the present cut-outs, by contrast, the profiles are unadorned and heavily classicizing, recalling the framed silhouettes (perhaps images of the artist, reflected in a mirror) that appear in several of Picasso's portraits of Olga and Marie-Thérèse from the late 1920s and early 1930s (see especially Zervos, vol. 7, no. 248, and vol. 8, no. 70). In the present cut-outs as well, the profile forms may be intended to suggest the act of viewing, an apt choice for the cover of an exhibition catalogue.

The most striking feature of Matisse's cut-outs is their fusion of the expressive elements of painting, drawing, and sculpture within a single medium. In an interview with André Verdet in 1952, Matisse described his work in cut paper as "drawing with scissors on sheets of paper colored in advance, one movement linking line with color, contour with surface" (quoted in J. Flam, op. cit., p. 216), while in the text that he wrote to accompany the cut-paper folios of his illustrated book Jazz (1943-1944), he proclaimed, "Cutting straight into color reminds me of the direct carving of sculptors" (quoted in ibid., p. 172). To the writer André Rouveyre, one of his closest friends and most frequent correspondents during the last years of his life, Matisse explained, "The cut-out paper allows me to draw in color. It is a simplification. Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the color--in which case one modifies the other--I am drawing directly in color, which will be the more measured as it will not be transposed. This simplification ensures an accuracy in the union of two means. It is not a starting point but a culmination" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1977, p. 17).

Matisse in his studio at the Hôtel Régina in Nice, circa 1952. BARCODE: 28855316

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