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Details & Cataloguing

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Henri Matisse
1869 - 1954
LA VILLA BLEUE
signed Henri Matisse (lower left)
oil on panel
33 by 41cm., 13 by 16 1/8 in.
Painted in Nice in 1918.
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The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Wanda de Guébriant.

Provenance

Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1918)
Alex. Reid & Lefevre, London
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1952, sale: Christie's, London, 30th March 1987, lot 17)
Waddington Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002

Exhibited

London, Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Selected French Paintings XIX & XX Century, 1953, no. 9, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

Guy Patrice & Michel Dauberville, Matisse, Paris, 1995, no. 230, illustrated p. 655

Catalogue Note

Painted in Nice in 1918, La Villa bleue depicts an elegant white villa within the rolling hills that surround the Mediterranean Sea. Matisse’s first trip to the South of France took place in 1904 and on a second trip to Nice in 1917 did the artist decide to spend his time there fully, enthralled by the power of light and his new found artistic freedom. Matisse installed himself in Nice on the 20th December 1917 – he was 48 years old by the time and the location provided an atmosphere of light reminiscent of his earlier North Africa trip in 1906 in his younger years. It was during the pre-war time period that Nice was seen as an escapist paradise, however with the Russian Revolution in tow in 1917, the Russians had now left, and the city witnessed a mass arrival of people looking to be as far away as possible from the trenches without leaving France. Nice, however, with its grand hotels and existing restaurants provided a bourgeois welcome for a painter of Matisse’s status and age and the artist firstly took up a room at the Hotel Beau Rivage; with a view straight onto the Mediterranean Sea, where Nietzsche and Chekhov had previously stayed, and also further resided at the Hotel de la Méditerranée et de la Côte d’Azur.

In an interview with Louis Aragon, Matisse states: ‘Nice, why Nice? In my work, I have tried to create a translucent setting for the mind. I have found the necessary limpidity in several places around the world: New York, the South Pacific, and Nice. If I had painted in the north, as I did thirty years ago, my painting would have been different. There would have been browns, grays, shadings of colour through perspective. The painters over in New York say, How can anyone ever paint there, with this zinc-coloured sky? But in fact it’s wonderful! Everything becomes clear, translucent, exact, limpid. Nice, in this sense, has helped me. What I paint, you see, are objects conceived with plastic means. When I close my eyes, I see the objects better than I do with my eyes open, stripped of accidental detail, and that is what I paint’ (Matisse quoted in Louis Aragon, 1943, p. 32) . The artist’s vision; devoid of any strict figurative and temporal representation and the exploration into the possibilities of pure colour have been at the core of Matisse’s art and the city of Nice and its surroundings had a profound and lasting impact on his œuvre. During his sojourns in Nice, Matisse not only painted a celebrated series of interior scenes focussing on the role of light and arrangements in an interior, but also striking examples of plein-air works painted in 1918. The rich foliage at either side of the present work acts as a visual repoussoir to the central depiction of a grand villa, typical in the architectural style of the region and elegant with its green roofs. Light and landscape is captured by the artist and La Villa Bleue is a particularly striking example of these works, of which another version now resides in the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia having been acquired by Alfred C. Barnes from the dealer Paul Guillaume in 1925.

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