Inscribed with the initials HM, dated août 1908, stamped with the foundry mark C. Valsuani cire perdue and numbered 3
Bronze, rich brown patina
Conceived in Paris in August 1908 and cast in 1950.
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York
Samuel and Luella Maslon (acquired from the above on December 13, 1954 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 8, 2002, lot 8)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Drawings, Paintings & Sculpture from Three Private Collections, 1960, no. 102
Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse, His Art and His Public, New York , 1951, illustration of another cast p. 3
An Exhibition of the Sculpture of Matisse and Three Paintings with Studies (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1953, no. 25, listed p. 12
Matisse, Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1955, no. 24, listed
Henri Matisse, Das Plastische Werk (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zürich, 1959, no. 33, illustration of another cast p. 14
Kunst von 1900 bis Heute (exhibition catalogue), Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1962, no. 41
Modern Sculpture from the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Collection (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1962-63, no. 291, illustrations of another cast pp. 78-79
Moderne skulptur, dansk og udenlandsk (exhibition catalogue), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1964, no. 701a, catalogued p. 132
Herbert Read, The Concise History of Modern Sculpture, New York, 1964, fig. 27, illustration of another cast p. 35
Herbert Read, “The Sculpture of Matisse,” Henri Matisse (exhibition catalogue), UCLA Art Galleries; The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1966, no. 110, illustration of another cast p. 129
Hjorvadur Harvard Arnason, History of Modern Art, Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, New York, 1968, illustration of another cast pl. 178
Jean Laude, La Peinture française, Paris, 1968, fig. 40, illustration of another cast
Hanne Finsen, Matisse, en retrospektive udstilling (exhibition catalogue), Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 1970, no. 67, illustration of another cast
Pierre Schneider, Henri Matisse, Exposition du Centenaire (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Natonales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1970, no. 234, illustration of another cast p. 278
Mario Luzi and Massimo Carrá, L’Opera di Matisse dalla rivolta fauve all’intimismo 1904-28, Milan, 1971 fig. S4, illustration of another cast p. 108
Alicia Legg, The Sculpture of Matisse (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, no. 34, illustration of another cast p. 88
Albert E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse, New York, 1972, no. 109-110, illustration of another cast p. 22
Henri Matisse, dessins et sculpture (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1975, no. 197, illustration of another cast p. 212
Ellen Charlotte Oppler, Fauvism Reexamined, New York and London, 1976, fig. 65, illustration of another cast
John Elderfield, Matisse in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978, no.41, illustration of another cast p. 189
Pierre Schneider, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Matisse, 1904-1928, Paris, 1982, no. 54, illustration of another cast p. 111
Jack Flam, “Matisse and the Fauves,” Primitivism in 20th Century Art, New York, 1984, illustration of another cast p. 226
Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse (exhibition catalogue), Edinburgh City Art Centre; Hayward Gallery, London; City Art Gallery, Leeds, 1984, no. 33, illustration of another cast p. 92
Michael P. Mezzatesta, Henri Matisse, Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth , 1984, no. 16, illustrations of another cast pp. 24 and 71
Pierre Schneider, Matisse, New York, 1984, illustration of another cast p. 549
Jack Flam, Matisse: the Man and his Art 1869-1918, Ithaca and London, 1986, no. 236, illustration of another cast p. 238
James Huneker, “On the Photo-Secession Gallery Exhibition,” Matisse, a Retrospective, New York, 1988, illustration of another cast p. 71
Gilles Néret, Matisse, Paris, 1991, illustration of another cast p. 50
Suzanne Kudielka, “Henri Matisse,” Transform BildObjektSkulptur im 20. Jahrhunderts (exhibition catalogue), Kunst Museum and Kunsthalle, Basel, 1992, no. 9, illustration of another cast p. 30
Pierre Schneider, Matisse, Paris, 1992, illustration of another cast p. 549
John Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, no. 106 illustration of another cast p. 188.
Yves-Alain Bois, Henri Matisse, 1904-1917, (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1993, no. 58, illustration of another cast p. 239
Claude Duthuit, Henri Matisse, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre sculpté, Paris, 1994, no. 41, illustrations of another cast pp. 89 & 91 (catalogued as numbered 3/10 and with incorrect provenance)
Guy Patrice and Michel Dauberville, Matisse: Henri Matisse Chez Bernheim-Jeune, Catalogue des oeuvres Répertoirées No. 261 au No. 798, Paris, 1995, no. 798, illustration of another cast p. 1417
Claude Duthuit and Wanda de Guébriant, Henri Matisse, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeurve sculpté, Paris, 1997, no. 41, illustrations of another cast pp. 110, 111, and 113 (for an exhaustive bibliography for this work, please see pp. 320, 342, 356-57)
Jack Flam, Henri Matisse: Sculpture (exhibition catalogue), C&M Arts, New York, 1998, no. 11, illustration of another cast
Yves-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso, a Gentle Rivalry (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1999, no. 35, illustration of another cast p. 52
Henri Matisse, Figure, Color, Space (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2006, illustration of another cast p. 152
Matisse’s genius for rendering the sensuality of the human form is perhaps no better exemplified than by his sculpture. From modest beginnings in 1894, when he modeled a small medallion, Profil de femme, until 1950 when he executed his last sculpture, Nu debout (Katia), Matisse turned to sculpture at crucial moments in his career when problems he encountered in his painting could only be resolved by investigations in three dimensions. In 1908, after having moved his residence, studio and school into the Hôtel Biron (now the Musée Rodin), Matisse began to develop his sculptural ideas on a much grander scale, working on the Deux Négresses, and the present work, Figure décorative, which was completed in August.
Throughout his life, Matisse published brief statements and gave interviews which offer fascinating insights into his creative process, but he had relatively little to say about sculpture. In 1908, however, he revealed his thinking in the celebrated Notes of a Painter and in the notes taken by Sarah Stein during the early days of the Académie Matisse. This was a period when every young sculptor measured himself against the example of Rodin, and Matisse was no exception. Comparing himself to Rodin in Notes of a Painter, he explained: "For me all is in the conception. I must therefore have a clear vision of the whole from the beginning. I could mention a great sculptor who gives us some admirable pieces: but for him, a composition is merely a grouping of fragments, which results in a confusion of expression” (quoted in Aldred H. Barr, Jr, “Matisse speaks to his students,” Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 55).
Matisse further clarified his ideas, formulated while he was working on his own sculpture, in his advice to his students: “The joints, like wrists, ankles, knees and elbows must show that they can support the limbs – especially when the limbs are supporting the body. And in cases of poses resting upon a special limb arm or leg, the joint is better when exaggerated than when underexpressed. Above all, one must be careful not to cut the limb at the joints as an inherent part of the limb. The neck must be heavy enough to support the head...Put in no holes that hurt the ensemble, as between thumb and fingers lying at the side. Express by masses in relation to one another, and large sweeps of line in interrelation. One must determine the characteristic form of the different parts of the body and the direction of the contours which will give this form. In a man standing erect all the parts must go in a direction to aid that sensation. The legs must work up into the torso, which clasps down over them. It must have a spinal column. One can divide one’s work by opposing lines (axes) which give the direction of the parts and thus build up the body in a manner that at once suggests its general character and movement” (ibid).
In Figure décorative, Matisse achieved a remarkable synthesis of formal rigor and sensuousness. It seems probable that he used the painting La coiffure, 1907 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart – see fig. 1) as a starting point, although in moving from two into three dimensions the pose was radically transformed. In the painting, the model sits in a relaxed pose while an attendant arranges her hair; in the bronze, she sits upright on a cube, a direct reference to the studio. The architectonic clarity of the cube acts as a measure against which the axes of the limbs are measured and located in space. Matisse’s new concern for formal order was reinforced by his response to the physical presence of the model. As noted by Albert E. Elsen: “The voluptuous instincts of Matisse manifest themselves strongly in the great Decorative Figure of 1908. There is no coy evasion of the viewer by averting the model’s gaze: like Manet’s Olympia, the woman confidently displays her body for inspection. The swollen fullness of her buttocks takes on an arrogance. Her sensuousness comes from the serpentine pose and promising proportion” (Albert E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse, New York, 1972, p. 87).
As was the case with many of his favorite artistic creations, Matisse incorporated Figure décorative within the compositions of later canvases, such as L’atelier rose of 1911 (The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow), La leçon de piano of 1916 (The Museum of Modern Art; see fig. 2), and the famous L’atelier rouge of 1911 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York; see fig. 3), in which this sculpture is featured on the right. Matisse’s selective depictions of Figure décorative and other sculpture in situ reveal his own appreciation of these works and their importance within the creative environment of his studio.
Although rooted in the sculpture of Rodin (fig. 4), Figure décorative may also be seen as a response to the latest developments in the Parisian art scene, particularly to the work of Matisse’s lifelong friend and artistic rival, Pablo Picasso. In his discussion of this sculpture, Michel P. Mezzatesta suggested that “the extraordinary combination of the pose’s formal structure with its unabashed physical appeal reflects Matisse’s answer to the early phases of Cubism” (Michel P. Mezzatesta, Henri Matisse Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1984, pp. 72-73). During 1908, while many of the Fauve painters came under the influence of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon, Matisse was formulating his own response. “Decorative Figure may have been conceived, therefore, in response to the new aesthetic. Matisse formulated his own figural alternative, sublimating the external geometry of Picasso’s figures (see fig. 5) while maintaining a voluptuous allure and rigorous formal order...The face of Decorative Figure – the almond shaped eyes, out-turned ears, simplified features and archaic smile – is reminiscent of the placid expression of Etruscan heads. The exaggerated anatomy may reveal the influence of African art, but, if so, it is an influence strained through the many levels of Matisse’s western cultural heritage and stripped of the malefic overtones it possessed in Picasso’s art. Perhaps quieter than Nu couché (Aurore) (see fig. 6), Decorative Figure is no less insistently sensual. Matisse has created an archaic goddess. Frontal and hieratic, yet informally posed; voluptuous and curvaceous, yet rigidly organized; revealing the abundance of her form, yet concealing it as well. Decorative Figure was Matisse’s most skillful synthesis to date of the modern and primitive – an image evoking the sensual fullness of Matisse’s ideal world” (ibid., p. 73).
For Figure décorative, the edition of bronzes was cast over a period of forty-nine years, beginning in 1908 and concluding in 1957. With the exception of no. I, cast by Bingen & Costenoble in 1908, all the other bronzes in the edition were cast by the Valsuani foundry. The following list of other casts is based on the research of Claude Duthuit and Wanda de Guébriant, published in Henri Matisse, Catalogue Raisonné de l’oeurve sculpté, Paris, 1997:
No. 0 – Private Collection, cast in 1957
No. 1/10 – The Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, cast circa 1908
No. 2/10 – The Nasher Collection, Dallas, cast in 1930
No. 2/10 – Private Collection, cast in 1950
No. 3/10 – The present cast
No. 4/10 – Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, cast in 1954
No. 5/10 – The St. Louis City Art Museum, cast in 1954
No. 6/10 – Private Collection, cast in 1954
(Cast No. 7/10 was not made to compensate for the existence of the two casts 2/10)
No. 8/10 – Private Collection, cast in 1952; sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 10, 2001, lot 228 sold: $12,655,750
No. 9/10 – Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, cast in 1952
No. 10/10 – Private Collection, cast in 1952
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, La coiffure, 1907, oil on canvas, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, La leçon de piano, 1916, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, 1946
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, L’atelier rouge (Le panneau rouge), 1911, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 4, Auguste Rodin, La Toilette de Venus, circa 1886, bronze, Private Collection
Fig. 5, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue assise, Autumn 1906, oil on canvas, National Gallery, Prague
Fig. 6, Henri Matisse, Nu couché (Aurore), 1907, bronze, Private Collection
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