Lot 23
  • 23

Henri Matisse

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Henri Matisse
  • Feuille noire sur fond rouge
  • Signed Matisse and dated 52 (lower right)
  • Gouache and collage on paper
  • 19 3/4 by 15 3/4 in.
  • 50 by 40 cm


Berggruen et Cie, Paris

John and Dominique de Menil (acquired from the above on April 18, 1953)

Acquired as a gift from the above


Paris, Berggruen et Cie, Henri Matisse Papiers Découpés, Paris, 1953, no. 3

Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Collage International from Picasso to the Present, 1958

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; The Detroit Institute of Arts; The St. Louis Art Museum, Henri Matisse, Paper Cut-Outs, 1977-78, no. 160

The St. Louis Art Museum, Matisse:  Image into Sign, 1993, no. 25

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Zeichnungen und Gouache découpées, 1993-1994


Jean Cassou, "Matisse va présenter au public ses papiers découpés," France Illustration 383, February 14, 1953, Paris, llustrated pp. 234-35

John Elderfield, The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, New York, 1978, illustration of the present work in Matisse's studio, p. 109

Meet Matisse, London, 1982, illustrated

Heath Reading Program, Roads Go Ever Ever On, Lexington & Toronto, 1989, illustrated p. 311


Good condition. The black leaf form shows the typical handling creases and nicks that occurred in the artist's working process. The colored sheet has a slight handling crease in the lower left corner. There also appears to be a few, typical minor repaired tears at extreme edges: at the lower right and upper left edges - neither of consequence. There are typical artist's pinholes in all four corners. The sheet is hinged at the top corners. There are some minor remnants of tape on the reverse edges from a previous mounting. Under ultra-violet light there are some lines of thin inpainting scattered in various section of the black form that are covering a number of small and scratches that probably occurred in the artist's execution and are cosmetically covered.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In this bold cut-out collage from 1952, Matisse trades in the traditional techniques of draftsmanship for a pair of scissors and liberates this philodendron leaf from a field of pure color.   His technique is deceptively simple, but the idea behind the composition is revolutionary.   "It seems to me", Matisse once hypothesized, "that in creating these coloured paper cutouts I am anticipated in the future" (quoted in Jean Guichard-Meili, Matisse Paper Cutouts, London, 1984, p. 57).  Working from his bed, his wheelchair or at his desk, he would busy himself with cutting out organic forms from sheets of paper that had been coated with gouache and paste them in various arrangements on the walls of his studio.  Sometimes, these cut-out elements would become part of a larger composition.  The present work was intended to stand alone.   A photograph from this period features this composition hanging alongside the ensemble composition known as Nuit de Noël, now in the collection of Museum of Modern Art in New York (see fig. 1).

Matisse gave the following explanation for his cutouts in an interview the year he completed this work:  "There is no separation between my old pictures and my cutouts, except that with greater completeness and abstraction, I have attained a form filtered to its essentials and of the objects which I used to present in the complexity of their space, I have preserved the sign which suffices and which is necessary to make the object exist in its own form and in the totality for which I conceived it" (Interview with Maria Luz, XXe siècle, January 1952, quoted in ibid, p. 52).

John Elderfield has written extensively on Matisse's cut-outs, and has made the following observations: "Matisse himself was not afraid to use the word 'decorative' in talking about his work.  He used it to explain that he was interpreting nature, not just copying it ('I seldom paint portraits, and if I do, only in a decorative manner...') and also to describe how he composed his pictures:  composition is 'the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painter's command to express his feelings.'  This 'decorative manner' meant an all-over distribution of expressive interest across the picture surface so that emotion -- Matisse's interpretive response to nature -- did not merely reside in the individual objects depicted.  Our empathy is invited not to the individual objects or figures within the picture but to the whole picture itself" (Elderfield, op. cit., p. 35).

Referring specifically to this piece,  a group of teachers wrote in 1989, "If you look at Matisse's black leaf on a red background..., you'll note that it is not a silhouette or a photograph of a real plant, but the personal expression of a leaf - Matisse's leaf!" (Heath Reading Program manual, Roads Go Ever Ever On, 1989p. 311).

Fig. 1, Nuit de Noël as seen in an early state at Matisse's studio on January 30, 1952, Hôtel Régina, Nice, the present work is visible on the right