Lot 53
  • 53

Henri Matisse

3,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Henri Matisse
  • Femme au chapeau
  • Signed Henri Matisse (lower right)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 22 by 15 3/8 in.
  • 56 by 39 cm


Paul Guillaume, Paris

Mrs. Domenica Guillaume, Paris (1934)

Pietro Feroldi, Brescia (1937)

Private Collection, Milano (1949)

By descent from the above in 1977 


Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Arte Moderna in una raccolta italiana, 1953, no. 93, illustrated in the catalogue

Turin, Civica Galleria d’arte Moderna di Torino, Capolavori i Arte Moderna nelle raccolte private, 1959, no. 29, illustrated in the catalogue


Waldemar George, La Grande Peinture Contemporaine à la Collection Paul Guillaume, Paris, circa 1929, illustrated pl. 67

Guido Piovene, La Raccolta Feroldi, Milan, 1942, illustrated in color pl. 38 (titled Femme assise)

Guy-Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Matisse, vol. II, Paris, 1995, no. 284, illustrated p. 740


Very good condition. Original canvas. There is some frame abrasion at the lower edge of the canvas, as well as small areas of old, pooled varnish, particularly visible at the lower center edge and surrounding the artist's signature. Under UV, there appears no evidence of retouching.
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

Matisse's finest pictures of his Nice period focused on "the harmonious, light-filled, and often profusely decorated interiors, with languorous and seductive models" (John Elderfield, "The Early Years at Nice," Henri Matisse: A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992, p. 289).  This splendidly painted work is a product of that rich artistic vocabulary, portraying one of those "seductive" models seated before an open window in his Mediterranean studio. Matisse painted this charming composition while working in the south of France in 1919.  The model posing in a chair was a popular subject during this period, and his focus on the supple curves of her body and the rich, textural contrasts of her clothing and surrounding interior tapestries is beautifully executed in the present work.  Many of Matisse's early Nice pictures are a celebration of his surroundings and the sumptuous environs of his daily life in the Midi (fig. 2).  “Matisse rejoiced in the light of Nice,” according to John Elderfield, “color was subordinated to it.  Thus, the flat, arbitrary colors of his preceding paintings, both 'decorative' and 'experimental,' were replaced by a much broader range of soft tonalities that convey how reflected light will suffuse an interior, associating whoever or whatever is within it. Light is almost palpable in these paintings. Their sensuality and the quality of meditation they afford both depend on the gentle pulsation of light through them. Often, the pulsation of pattern will form an accompaniment" (John Elderfield, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, p. 289).

The present work marks a critical moment for Matisse, both in spirit and in style.  The canvas dates from 1919, when Matisse was regularly visiting the ailing Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Cagnes during the final months of his life.  As a young man Matisse was a frequent guest in Renoir’s studio, turning to the aging artist for professional advice and inspiration. “Renoir’s work saves us from the drying-up effect of pure abstraction,” Matisse explained in an interview that same year.   He believed that Renoir’s art was an antidote to the stultifying impact of Cubism that he saw consuming his peers, and he struggled to reveal the plastic beauty of form and figuration.  Throughout the war years, the artist had worked against the tide of the Parisian avant-garde, committing himself to a style of painting that was grounded in form and color.  But at the beginning of 1919, his determination was at its most strident: "Work monopolized him from the start," writes Hilary Spurling of this period.  "Throughout the first months of 1919, he complained that the road lay uphill, that he was toiling like a carthorse, that his labors exhausted him and made him despair.  But he had no doubt that he was on to something.  'As for telling you what it will be like,' he wrote to his wife on 9 January, 'that I couldn't say since it hasn't happened yet, but my idea is to push further and deeper into true painting'"  (Hilary Spurling, op. cit. p. 223).

Femme au chapeau
is clearly indebted to the inspiration of Renoir’s many sumptuous canvases of female figures wearing elaborate hats (fig. 4).  Renoir famously kept wide-brimmed hats festooned with flowers as studio props, and they appear in several of his compositions in the later years of his life. Matisse’s choice of his model’s accessory in this picture and another closely related work from these months is most likely a nod to Renoir, but it also demonstrates the artist’s own affinity for elaborately patterned and textured fabrics and textiles, which would drape the interior of his studio in the years to come (fig. 3).

Discussing his interior scenes Matisse wrote that: "My models, human figures, are never just 'extras' in an interior. They are the principal theme in my work. I depend entirely on my model, whom I observe at liberty, and then I decide on the pose which best suits her nature. When I take a new model, I intuit the pose that will best suit her from her un-self-conscious attitudes of repose, and then I become the slave of that pose. I often keep those girls several years, until my interest is exhausted. My plastic signs probably express their souls (a word I dislike), which interests me subconsciously, or what else is there? Their forms are not always perfect, but they are expressive. The emotional interest aroused in me by them does not appear particularly in the representation of their bodies, but often rather in the lines or the special values distributed over the whole canvas or paper, which form its complete orchestration, its architecture. But not everyone perceives this. It is perhaps sublimated sensual pleasure, which may not yet be perceived by everyone" (quoted in Ernst Gerhard Güse, Henri Matisse, Drawings and Sculpture, Munich, 1991, p. 22).