Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954) Tête (Executed in Nice in January 1943)

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Lot 4AR
Henri Matisse
(French, 1869-1954)
Tête

Sold for £ 43,750 (US$ 55,781) inc. premium
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Tête
signed with the artist's initials 'Hm' (lower right)
pencil on paper
52.8 x 40.5cm (20 13/16 x 15 15/16in).
Executed in Nice in January 1943

Footnotes

  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Wanda de Guébriant.

    Provenance
    Marguerite Duthuit Collection (the artist's daughter).
    Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne, no. L.2779 (acquired from the above in 1955).
    Mel Ferrer Collection, Santa Barbara (acquired from the above in 1959).
    Lisa Soukhotine-Ferrer Collection, Santa Barbara (a gift from the above).
    Thence by descent to the previous owners; their sale, Christie's, London, 5 February 2014, lot 221.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    Matisse was truly a master of colour and line, discovering the secrets of simplicity through his explorations of hue and vivacity.

    During the first decade of the twentieth century Matisse discovered the radiant colours of the Mediterranean in his depictions of Collioure and Saint-Tropez, when his sparing and bold paint application shocked critics of the time. During this period he painted one of the great masterpieces of Modernism: Bonheur de vivre (1905, the Barnes Foundation). The work radiates colour, and solidified Matisse's reputation as one of the leading artists of the time.

    Many years later in 1930 when Matisse was commissioned by his biggest American collector, Dr. Albert Barnes of Merion, to create an enormous mural for his home the painter looked back to this early work for inspiration. The challenge of presenting the composition on such a large scale led Matisse to develop a new working method: piecing the figures together using large-scale cut-outs of coloured paper. This allowed Matisse to place the figures easily over a large area. It also afforded a very crucial discovery: the power of line and negative space.

    Matisse returned to Europe in the early 1930s, to Nice and the brilliant blues of the Côte d'Azur. Upon his return he had an entirely new preoccupation with line. Using the lessons he took from the cut-outs, this use of negative space and line was explored in a series of works on paper depicting the artist and his model that were daringly simple and sparing in their execution. The artist continued to hone this ability to describe detail and create an impression of beauty using just a single, sensuous line: the early 1940s saw Matisse working on the series Thèmes et Variations, a study in simplicity of draughtsmanship.

    The present work - Tête from 1943 - falls exactly in the midst of this journey towards the truly simplified forms of his work in the 1950s. Tête was executed at a pivotal moment in Matisse's life, just prior to his move away from Nice up to Vence to escape the Allied bombing. The drawing is startlingly modern and simple, with no detail or pattern to hide behind, yet the confidence of its execution makes the composition's success seem easy. With the beauty of the portrait made so finite, this piece leads us immediately to think of the iconic Sword Swallower from Matisse's Jazz set of 1947.

    Economy of line became, from the mid-1940s onward, one of the pillars of Matisse's art, and he captured the beauty of his models and his surroundings with captivating ease. Following the War, Matisse would bring his two passions – colour and line – together in his celebrated decorative scheme for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. A testament to spirituality and love, this scheme was borne out of Matisse's gratitude to Monique Bourgeois, a nun from Vence, who had cared for him while he was taken ill during the conflict. Scenes of the Passion are here transposed into minimal lines, and brightly hued symbols. Whether in a delicate and telling portrait or an ambitious decorative scheme, few artists have been more able to capture greater likeness and feeling in so few gestures.
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