Henri Matisse, Vase D'anémones
Impressionist & Modern Art

A Vibrant Matisse Still Life from the Collection of Enrico Donati

By Sotheby's
An important work by Henri Matisse from the collection of Enrico Donati, himself an artist and contemporary of André Breton, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, will be offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 19 June.

M atisse’s Vase d'anémones is a remarkable example of the artist’s mastery of the still life genre, produced in the period shortly before he gave up painting due to deteriorating health, and turned his attention to creating his paper cut-outs — a celebrated and defining period in his career.

Vase d'anémones sees Matisse return to a subject matter that spanned the different periods of his artistic practice, drawing influence from the natural world – evidenced in the cut-outs which were almost exclusively the shapes of plants, leaves and flowers. A preparatory sketch for the finished work on a page from his diary shows the free-flowing lyrical movement of the artists hand, that translates in to the final composition.

This painting forms part of the collection of Erico Donati – an extremely influential figure in the history of European art, and one of the organisers of the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme held in Paris in 1947, in which he exhibited three of his own works. Donati continued his journey of experimentation throughout his career, such was his fascination with new theories, and investigating new techniques and materials in the studio. Throughout his career as an artist, Donati demonstrated a deep understanding and appreciation for the advancement of western painting, collecting not only the work of friends but that of artists whose work showed the ever-changing landscape of 20th century Modernism.

Sotheby’s Vice Chairman of the Americas, August Uribe, recalls the moment he visited Enrico Donati in his studio.

A towering figure of the Surrealist movement in America, Enrico Donati’s legacy as an artist and cultural leader has been enriched by his activities as a collector. In line with many of his Surrealist colleagues and friends, such as André Breton, Max Ernst and William N. Copley, Donati (1909-2008) built an exceptionally eclectic collection of art and artefacts from across the globe.

In May 2010 Sotheby’s had the privilege of offering for sale important American Indian, African, Oceanic and other works of art from the Studio of Enrico Donati. Of particular note was a cache of Hopi Kachina dolls that Donati collected over many years. Incredibly, some carvings were acquired as early as 1934, when the thenyoung artist travelled to the American Southwest and Pacific Northwest. In 2006, I was invited to Mr Donati’s studio after we had met at a lunch organised by a mutual friend and collector, John Todd Figi.

Abstract painter Enrico Donati working w. dust, auto paint, pipe ashes, etc. to create one of his paintings.
Enrico Donati at work in his studio, circa 1954. Photo Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

I was fascinated by the colorful anecdotes told by Mr Donati regarding his friendship with Marcel Duchamp and other artists who were exiled in America between 1939 and 1945. After lunch, we ventured to Mr Donati’s Fifth Avenue apartment and viewed his collection of African and Oceanic Art. The idea of living with African and Oceanic Art in conjunction with Modern Art was of great art historical importance, as well as of aesthetic appeal. Like Breton, who also collected Kachina dolls (it has been said that he even sold some Kachinas to Donati), many of the Surrealists were keen to collect this ‘pure’ form of expression as a means of inspiration for their own art. Mr Donati’s acquisition of so-called ‘Primitive Art’ was complemented by collecting the works of titans of European Modernism.

Over the course of several decades, he amassed an enviable collection of masterworks by Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Brauner, Sage and Gorky, among others. In several cases, lifelong friendships with fellow artists led to gifts with personal dedications. A pioneer in many ways, in leaving his native Italy for the United States, Donati was one of the first to take a route followed by many of his contemporaries, including fellow Surrealists Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy.

His radical approach to painting and his tireless promotion of Surrealism in America is part of an important chapter in the history of Modern Art that saw a particularly rich collaboration and exchange of ideas between Europe and the United States. The art that Donati collected is an important part of this story and illustrates the power of art to transcend cultural borders. As one of Matisse’s finest late still-lifes, Vase d’anémones is the perfect illustration of Mr Donati’s sophisticated taste and celebrates one of the era’s greatest masters.

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