Property from a Private Collection
Pierre Matisse & Modernism in America
Modestly deflecting the praise that this legendary dealer deserved for shaping the career of so many artists and ultimately the face of modern art, Pierre Matisse often remarked "My artists made me" (quoted in J. Russell, Matisse, Father and Son, p. 7).
Born in 1900, Pierre Matisse was the youngest son of Henri Matisse and Amélie Parayre and practically grew up in the studio of his father. Surrounded by these hallmarks of modernism and innovations in color application, Pierre developed a discerning yet distinctly unique artistic eye. After a brief foray as an artist, Pierre embarked on his own path in a new country with the brave ambition of bringing European contemporary art to America. When Pierre arrived in New York City in 1924 there were just a few galleries and absolutely no museums taking the risk of showing contemporary art. By 1929 the Museum of Modern Art was established, followed two years later by the Whitney Museum of American Art, radically shifting the public's attention to modernism in the public sphere. In October 1931, Pierre boldly opened the doors of the Pierre Matisse Gallery in the Fuller Building on 57th Street, where he would remain until his death in 1989.
Pierre Matisse can be credited as one of the pioneers of contemporary art in the United States, his distinction among these pioneers being his staunch support and promotion of young European artists. While his gallery got off to a start with exhibitions of more established artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, André Derain and even his father, he soon began holding shows of completely unknown, emerging artists including Joan Miró, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet. Pierre was responsible for introducing the young painter Miró to America in 1932, and would remain his dealer and close friend for over five decades, supporting and promoting the artist's diverse output over his lifetime (see lot 2 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale and lots 437, 439, 440 and 441 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale and lots 161, 162, 163, 165 and 166 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper sale). In 1945, Pierre mounted the revolutionary exhibition of Miró's Constellations series, which had been painted rather covertly and unseen by practically anyone until their arrival in New York. Pierre also championed Giacometti in America, holding a landmark retrospective of the artist's sculpture, paintings and drawings in 1948, in which lot 1 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale was exhibited (see also lot 438 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale). Giacometti showed his gratitude toward his esteemed dealer, writing in a letter to him, "What a life I have, thanks to you!" (quoted in ibid., p. 146). Pierre also introduced another unfamiliar artist to America--Jean Dubuffet--ignoring the critics and public in Europe who dismissed his Art Brut style as savage and defiantly unappealing; and who would later be seen as one of the most pivotal artists of the century (see cover lot in Post-War and Contemporary Morning sale, May 14th). Pierre's stable of artists later included Marc Chagall, Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, Wilfredo Lam and Alexander Calder, to name a few.
Not only was Pierre Matisse passionately dedicated to the careers of his artists, he worked assiduously to educate and challenge the top collectors and museum directors of his day. His influence on the history of modernism is witnessed in nearly every major private and public collection of 20th century art. Christie's is honored to offer a select group of works in our spring Impressionist and Modern and Post-War and Contemporary Art sales that were once championed by Pierre Matisse and have remained in his family ever since.