In less than twenty strokes of India ink, the painter outlines a calligraphic face of unrivalled expressiveness and aesthetic refinement. Drawing was always essential for Matisse. At the end of his life, too tired to paint, he abandoned oils and reduced his art to the very essence of line. In 1948 he began the decoration of the Chapelle du Rosaire in which the contrast of black and white became a fundamental element in which his drawing technique unfolded in its entire splendor. After the inauguration of the Chappelle in 1951, that Matisse considered to be his masterpiece, he devoted his entire creative activity to his paper cut-outs and ink and brush drawings.
In a message addressed to his native town in 1952, during the inauguration of his museum at the Cateau-Cambrésis, he wrote: “It is in the creation of the Vence chapel that I finally woke up to myself and I understood that all the dogged labor of my life was for the great human family, to whom a little of the fresh beauty of the world needed to be revealed through my intermediary. I have been nothing more than a medium.” (Musée Matisse, Une fête en Cimmérie. Représentation du visage dans l’œuvre de Matisse. Nice, June 25th to September 4th 2003, p.46). Following the completion of the Chapelle du Rosaire, Matisse’s faces become no longer specific portraits but partake rather of a search for essential form.
Visage of 1952 is a very accomplished, large format, of these portraits that he hung on the walls of his hotel room. A photograph of Matisse’s young assistant and model Lydia Delectorskaya taken in 1952 shows Visage hung high in the top corner of the master’s living room, above a frieze of paper cut-outs. On the subject of the 1950s ink and brush portraits, Matisse himself wrote: “These drawings spring up in one piece, made of elements without any apparent link with the analytic thought which preceded them. The multiplicity of feelings expressed in each of them seems impossible to capture so much the speed with which they join together is great. I am absolutely convinced that they represent the goal of my curiosity.” (Musée Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambresis, Les dessins au pinceau de Matisse, October 15th 2011 to February 19th 2012, p. 48). It was also in 1952 that the important Matisse retrospective opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: the consecration of the life of a painter who had marked modern painting forever. The ink and brush drawings are rightly considered to be the aesthetic testament of the great master, who died two years after drawing Visage.
Very few drawings of this quality and size remain on the international market. Most can now be found in prestigious institutions and museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation.
This magnificent drawing attests moreover to a story: that of the friendship between Claude Duthuit, Matisse’s grandson, and the current owner. The latter had the opportunity of purchasing this work in the late 70s’ directly from Marguerite Duthuit, mother of Claude and Matisse’s daughter. A testimony to this unique link, this ink and brush drawing has never been exhibited and has remained completely unknown to the art market until today.
“A sign is enough to evoke a face, there is no need to impose on people eyes and a mouth… the field should be left free to the dreams of the spectator.” (Henri Matisse, ‘Il moi maestro Henri Matisse’, La Biennale de Venezia, n°26, December 1955) “Through drawing the feelings and soul of the painter pass without difficulty into the spirit of the spectator.”
Henri Matisse, 1949, Ecrits et propos sur l’art, p. 160
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