Wanda de Guébriant has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
'I do not paint things, I paint only the differences between them' Henri Matisse, 1942
When Matisse settled in Nice in 1917, his art was at a turning point. Having persistently refined his painting into a unique and extraordinary simplification of form and colour to the point where it stood on the brink of abstraction, on the Côte d'Azur, Matisse embraced a new, vivid and colourful world of intense visual complexity. 'I had worked in the Impressionist manner,' he declared in 1919, 'directly from nature, and later I strove for concentration, for a more intense expression with line as well as colour. So I was, of course, obliged in part to sacrifice other values, materials, spatial depth, and richness of detail. Now I want to bring all of this together' (Matisse cited in P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 507).
Matisse's work in Nice over the next decade would be an attempt to create a complete visual synthesis of both the real and the abstract solely through form, pattern and colour. Settling into a third floor apartment at 1 place Charles Félix, Matisse created an Orientalist studio replete with North African textiles, Persian costumes, Turkish furniture, and Chinese vases in which, over the next decade, he both lived and worked. The complete visual overload generated by this sumptuous and exotic interior formed the setting for most of Matisse's paintings of the 1920s.
Nature morte, fleurs et tasse is a still life painting that Matisse painted of this interior in 1924. Like the décor of his apartment this colour-drenched painting is also a complex construction of both real and decorative form. Juxtaposing the floral pattern of Matisse's Morrocan screen with real flowers in a floral-painted Chinese vase, Matisse generates a subtle layering of supposedly real and artificial form and colour in a way that hints at the abstract nature of the painter's art while also purporting to depict reality. In this way a pictorial tension between the forms and objects of the painting is established, one that is sustained and held together into a febrile unity by Matisse's extraordinary ability to convey space, depth and volume using just pure colour. 'I do not paint things' he once told Louis Aragon, 'I paint only the differences between them.' (Matisse in conversation with Louis Aragon, 1942, cited in 'Matisse-en-France' in Henri Matisse, Dessins: thèmes et variations , Paris, 1943, p. 37). In this charming still-life the artifice of the painter's art is subtly intertwined with the artifice of the sumptuous decoration and abstract pattern and form of Matisse's Orientalist fabrics and objects. In what is a complex and masterfully coordinated composition an atmospheric and wholly believable image of his intimate interior world is brought to life solely from a constructed spatial and pictorial play of pure colour.
Talking about his many Odalisques of this period - paintings in which an exotically clad model was set into the intense Orientalist patterns of his apartment interior - Matisse asserted, 'Look closely...the sun floods them with its triumphant brightness taking hold of colours and forms. Now the oriental décor of the interiors, the array of hangings and rugs, the rich costumes, the sensuality of heavy, drowsy bodies, the blissful torpor in the eyes lying in wait for pleasure, all this splendid display of a siesta elevated to the maximum intensity of arabesque and colour should not delude us. In this atmosphere of languid relaxation, under the torpor of the sun washing over people and objects, there is a great tension brewing, a tension of a specifically pictorial order, a tension that comes from the interplay and interrelationship of elements' (Matisse cited in Schneider, op.cit., 1984, p. 506).
The same can be said for many of his still-lifes from this period too. A sun-drenched, dream-like and sleepy atmosphere of a siesta pervades many of the paintings from these years. Matisse's command of colour, while as masterful as ever, is softer and more muted in these works. It is a quality that some critics have named as 'anemonism' because of the soft colours of the anemones that Matisse so often, as here, chose to include in his paintings of these years. Infused with the profound sense of a warm light that pervades all the Nice paintings, this still-life subtly evokes the faux-Orientalism of Matisse's Odalisques as well as the sensual pleasure Matisse evidently took from the visual overload of the condensed form, pattern and colour of his luxurious and exotic decorations.
Vases of anemones appear in several of Matisse's still-lifes of this period in a way that seems to visually suggests a parallel between the artifice of the intense pattern and colour of the Nice apartment interior and that found in the supposedly more natural arrangement of flowers in a vase. It is as if Matisse wishes to demonstrate in these paintings the process of his painter's eye at work in coordinating and formulating the world around him into pleasing and often surprising compositions. The compositions of his paintings, like that of the exotic interior of his Nice apartment, have been arranged into a complex but ultimately visually pleasing units of form and colour in much the same way that a vase of flowers is arranged into a successful and visually pleasing whole.
In this work spatial depth and the formal independence of the objects is miraculously established through a careful balance of bright colour. Most notable in this respect is the yellow coffee up and saucer placed in front of the Ottoman coffee pot and tray. Forming a radiant point in the foreground of the picture, it acts as a linchpin of the whole composition and is essential in establishing the spatial depth of field of the picture which the flat patterning of the other forms in the work tend to undermine. A carefully orchestrated balance of form and colour, Nature morte, fleurs et tasse is a testament to the largely intuitive manner in which Matisse's indulged his natural painterly ability in the mid-1920s to create intense and colourful compositions that play with reality as if it were an abstraction. The pictorial space of a picture Matisse pointed out, was an abstraction because it 'is constructed with an assemblage of forces that has nothing to do with copying directly from nature,' adding that 'It would be hard for me to explain this in more detail because a good deal of very mysterious instinct comes into this construction' (Matisse cited in Schneider op.cit., 1984, p. 504).
Nature morte, fleurs et tasse was purchased in 1929 through the agency of Henry Reinhardt & Son who made European purchases for both the Detroit Institute of Arts as well privately for the distinguished American collector and connoisseur, Ralph H. Booth. The painting has descended through the Booth family to the present day and is offered at auction for the very first time.
Nature morte, fleurs et tasse
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF RALPH AND MARY BOOTH
Signed 'Henri Matisse' (lower left)
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Exposition Henri Matisse, May 1924, no. 34 (titled La Tasse Jaune).
Chicago, University of Chicago, The Renaissance Society, November 1930. Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Art, Modern French Painting, 1931, no. 66.
24¼ x 20 in. (61.6 x 50.8 cm.)
A. Basler, Henri Matisse, Leipzig, 1924.
F. Watson, in The Arts, January 1927 (illustrated p. 38).
'Art World Magazine', in Chicago Evening Post, Chicago, 6 November 1928, p. 12.
Art News, 11 January 1930.
G. Patrice & M. Dauberville, Henri Matisse chez Bernheim-Jeune, Editions Bernheim-Jeune, vol. II, Paris, 1995, p. 1203, no. 615.
Henry Reinhardt & Son Inc., New York, by whom acquired from the artist through the agency of Pierre Matisse.
Ralph H. Booth, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, by whom acquired from the above on 19 October 1929 and thence by descent to the present owner.