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

Portrait aux cheveux bouclés, pull marin (Allan Stein)

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Portrait aux cheveux bouclés, pull marin (Allan Stein)
signed 'H. Matisse' (upper left)
oil on canvas
21 5/8 x 18 1/8 in. (55 x 46 cm.)
Painted circa 1907
Pierre Matisse, New York (by descent from the artist).
Private collection (by descent from the above); sale, Christie's, New York, 6 November 2008, lot 82.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.
Y.-A. Bois, ed., Matisse in the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, 2015, p. 141 (illustrated in color, p. 143, fig. 9).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, May 2011-June 2012, p. 198 (illustrated in color, pl. 155).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

In the forthright and appealing simplicity of this portrait, Matisse in 1907 revealed a momentous quantum leap in the possibilities of painting, amounting to a radical development in the evolution of early modern art, which—as history would tell—has wielded a powerful impact on the visual arts down to this very day. The artist pared down every outward aspect of this picture to the bare essentials, deliberately setting aside virtually all the conventional characteristics that have sustained the art of painting in oils on canvas since the Renaissance. A few black contours, some abbreviated marks drawn with the brush, and only three colors are all Matisse deemed necessary to project the likeness of this pre-teen boy. In his Notes of a Painter, published in 1908—“one of the most important and influential artist’s statements of the century,” as Jack Flam has declared–Matisse articulated his aim most succinctly: “What I am after, above all, is expression ... I want to reach that state of condensation of sensations which constitutes a picture” (in J. Flam, ed., Matisse on Art, Berkeley, 1955, pp. 30, 37 and 38).
This painting is furthermore the outcome of the famous relationship between Matisse and the most notable of his earliest collectors. His subject is Allan Stein, the eleven-year-old son of Gertrude and Leo Stein's brother Michael and his wife Sarah, who together comprised the celebrated Four Americans in Paris (exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1970). Michael, Leo and Gertrude were born in Pennsylvania into a family clothing business which later moved to San Francisco, where Sarah’s family resided. On the death of the Steins’ parents, Michael, the oldest, prospered in the cable-car business and supported his younger siblings’ university studies and travels to Europe. Leo aspired to become an artist, Gertrude later became a writer. In the fall of 1903 Leo and Gertrude began to share a house in Paris. Michael and Sarah, with young Allan, moved nearby the following year. Together they frequented the salons and galleries, met both Matisse and Picasso in 1905, and in the next year introduced the artists to each other.
"As a group the Steins ...were among the most enthusiastic and perceptive collectors of modern art in Paris in the first decade of the century,” John Klein has written. “The patronage of each was vital to Matisse at one time or another, and Michael and Sarah Stein were lifelong supporters. Each member of the family eventually went his or her own way with regard to the artist's work, but in the decade before the First World War, both the patronage and the friendship of this close-knit family of American expatriates were crucial to Matisse" (Matisse Portraits, New Haven, 2001, p. 150).
Both Sarah and Michael persuaded Leo to purchase his first Matisse, the sensationally controversial La femme au chapeau—which he could more easily afford–straight out of the salle des Fauves at the 1905 Salon d'Automne (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Gertrude sold this painting, the last Matisse in the collection she had jointly formed with Leo, after she gravitated toward Picasso and his work, to Sarah and Michael in 1915. Sarah and Michael had acquired their first Matisses in 1906, including the even more radical and today iconic Portrait de Madame Matisse (La raie vert), 1905, as well as the artist’s well-known Autoportrait, which Gertrude had considered to be too informal and intimate for public display (both portraits are in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen). Sarah and Michael went on to acquire more than forty paintings and at least a half-dozen bronzes by the artist.
Matisse enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Sarah Stein, whom he valued as both a perceptive critic and confidante. "She was the one who fascinated him,” Thérèse Ehrman, the family's au pair, recalled. “He'd come with bundles of pictures under each arm, and Sarah would tell him what she thought of things, sometimes rather bluntly. He'd seem to always listen" (quoted in H. Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, The Early Years, 1869-1908, New York, 1999, p. 382).
Sarah studied informally with Matisse during late 1907. Encouraging him to share his teaching skills with others, she and Michael supported the founding of the Académie Matisse that opened at the Couvent des Oiseaux in January 1908. She was one of the first group of ten students to sign up, and continued to attend the Académie for about a year. She made invaluable notes on Matisse's comments during these sessions (first published in A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, pp. 550-552; the original manuscripts are reproduced in The Steins Collect, exh. cat., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2011, pp. 334-359). "She knows more about my paintings than I do," Matisse once remarked (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1970, p. 35).
Likely working from memory, Matisse painted curly-haired Allan wearing a blue sailor’s jersey during the late summer or autumn of 1907, following a month-long stay with the Stein clan–including Allan–at the Villa Bardi in Fiesole, near Florence. He painted around this same time Le Luxe (I) (Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) as well as a second canvas of Allan (illustrated here), full-length and life-size, employing broad, flattened planes of color, but like Le Luxe (I) showing Cézannesque modeling. Matisse imbued Garçon au filet à papillons with the solemn grandeur of early Renaissance painting, especially that of Giotto, which he studied that summer in Florence, Padua, and Arezzo.
The present portrait of Allan represents Matisse’s thoroughgoing distillation and reworking of Italian primitivist stylization, now rendered emphatically frontal and absolutely flat, relying solely on linear contours and contrasts stemming from the juxtaposition of large areas of uniformly applied local color to foster the perception of volume within a spatial context. Matisse employed this new synthesis of means in the large decorative canvases of his post-Fauve period, in Le Luxe (II), 1907-1908 and the two versions of La Danse (1909, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and 1910, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), works in which he had taken modernist figuration to an unprecedentedly reduced and unadorned state.
The two canvases depicting Allan Stein have companions in the portraits Matisse painted of two of his own children, Marguerite in 1907 (at age twelve) and Pierre in 1909 (when he was nine). These paintings of family members are among “Matisse’s most reductive portraits from this period, and we may readily see the family as the laboratory for radical experiment in making portraiture without expressing individuality,” Klein has noted. “Matisse goes as far as possible to reduce the expression of personality to a minimum, while retaining a visual connection with recognizable features” (op. cit., 2001, pp. 105-106).
Especially fond of young Allan, his children’s occasional playmate, Matisse gave the boy in 1906 a whimsical drawing of his own family (illustrated in ibid., p. 88). The following year, he dedicated two drawings to Allan, a sheet of portrait studies he had made of him (illustrated in exh. cat., op. cit., 2011, p. 421), which he inscribed "A Allan Stein en souvenir de ses onze ans affectueusement mai 1907 Henri Matisse," as well a sheet showing a sailboat in the harbor at Collioure, inscribed “A Allain [sic] Stein son ami H. Matisse 7 nov. 07" (exh. cat., op. cit.,1970, p. 160). Matisse’s affection for the Stein’s boy likely explains why this painting remained in the artist’s collection, passing to his own son Pierre and thereafter in the possession of his grandson.
Matisse enjoyed painting the children, while admiring their art as well. Guillaume Apollinaire recalled the artist showing him his children’s drawings—“Some of them were astonishing. Matisse was very interested in them” (quoted in Y.-A. Bois, ed., op.,cit., Philadelphia, 2015, p. 134). “Matisse tried to emulate the candor of children,” Claudine Grammont has written, “borrowing from their art a rudimentary graphic line and a color as simple as that of their coloring books” (ibid.).
Allan Stein also became the subject of a bust-length portrait that Picasso painted in late 1906 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 35), possibly as a commission from Michael for Sarah on her birthday. Picasso had recently completed his well-known portrait of Allan’s aunt Gertrude. The classicizing tendency in Picasso’s portrait may have inspired a similar turn in Matisse’s two portraits of Allan done the following year. “Another triangulation was taking shape here, too – Matisse, the Steins and Picasso,” Klein has written. “It seems that Allan Stein became one locus of the competitiveness that marked the relations between the two artists, especially where the Steins as patrons were concerned” (op. cit., 2001, p. 151).

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