The Directors of Marlborough Gallery announce an exhibition of prints by Henri Matisse titled, "Matisse: The Essence of Line, Selected Prints: 1900-1950" which opens at Marlborough Gallery on September 12 and will continue through October 12, 2013. The inspiration for this print exhibition draws from Henri Matisse's own words: One must always search for the desire of the line, where it wishes to enter or where to die away. Also always be sure of its source; this must be done from the model (Matisse, According to Sarah Stein, 1908).
This exhibition, which spans a half century of printmaking by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), is one of the first major surveys to take place in New York in many years and comprises over 80 prints, many of which are rare examples in various graphic media: etching, drypoint, woodcut, lithography, linocut and pochoir (stencil). As the art historian Marilyn McCully explains in her introductory essay for the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, "the essence of line in a print, if achieved in the way Matisse wanted, could thus provide all the information that is need: the presence and character of a model, the definition of spatial relationships within a composition, including both interior and exterior views, and details of a particular setting."
Divided into four sections according to print-making media and including the themes of poetry, dance, and music, the exhibition begins with an exceptionally rare drypoint self-portrait of the artist working on an etching plate, Henri Matisse Etching (1900-03), and is followed with two major early nudes from 1906: the woodcut Le Grand Bois and the lithograph Le grand nu. In addition are a number of etchings and drypoints that were done around the time of World War I, such as Fanny de face (1914) and Loulou Masque- chapeau fleuri (1914-15), characterized by a remarkable economy of line. Continuing into the 1920s and 30s with Tête penchée et bocal de poissons (1929) and Jeune femme le visage enfoui dans les bras (1929), the exhibition culminates in the 1940s and 50s with thick linear aquatint heads such as Visage de jeune femme (1948) and the vibrant color aquatint Marie-José en robe jaune, one of only 20 color proofs from 1950.
The second and third sections of the exhibition explore Matisse’s use of lithography and the relationship between the model and the setting. Matisse began creating lithographs early in his career, employing lithographic crayon on stone or using transfer paper to produce richly printed images similar to those in his drawings. An early work, Nu accroupi, profil à la chevelure noire (1906), reveals some of his imaginative use of the lithographic technique. It was in the 1920s that Matisse produced some of his most beautiful and impressive lithographs which include the model either in portrait or reading in a variety of interiors. The portraits included are La capeline de paille d’Italie (1923) and Le renard blanc (1929), as well as a number of images of the model reading, such as the exquisitely detailed Intérieur, la lecture (1925). However, in the words of McCully, it was Matisse’s “preoccupation” with the recurring theme of the exotic and “sensuous but moody” nude as odalisque, seated or reclining in a richly patterned interior, that became one of the most significant parts of his graphic oeuvre. An important selection of lithographs based on the theme of the odalisque is included in this exhibition: Grande odalisque à la culotte bayadère (1925), Odalisque à la coupe de fruits (1925), Jeune Hindoue (1929), Orientale sur lit de repos, sol de carreaux rouges (1929), Odalisque, brasero et coupe de fruits (1929), Repos sur la banquette (1929), and La Persane (1929).
The fourth section of this exhibition examines the themes of dance, poetry, and music in Matisse’s graphic works. In the 1920s Matisse worked with the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev to design sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes, which also led to his friendship with the choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine. In 1927 Matisse drew inspiration from this friendship and created the portfolio of lithographs Dix danseuses for the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, from which a selection of lithographs will be shown. Also featured is the very rare color etching, La Danse (1935-36), printed by Lacourière and based on Matisse’s unused first design for a mural commissioned by the Philadelphia collector Albert Barnes in 1932.
Matisse continued his fascination with popular music, circus, and travel in the series of 20 color pochoirs (stencils) for Jazz (1947); a rare example of the portfolio version is included in this exhibition. This impressive tour de force was created in the artist’s later years when, as McCully describes in the catalogue, “his physical powers declined and he was forced to devise a number of means, including his celebrated cut-outs, with which he could continue producing art.” These cut and pasted designs were translated into pochoirs (stencils), thus enabling the artist to draw in color and create chromatic, rhythmic illustrations. Matisse would also turn to poetry; having read the poems of Stéphane Mallarmé, he collaborated with the publisher Albert Skira in 1932 to produce the etchings for the livre d’artiste, Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé, which is also included in this exhibition. Here, Matisse’s etched lines express the ideas conveyed by the poems and, as McCully writes, invite the reader “to consider the quality of the line, including its own rhythms and poetic associations, in concert with the accompanying text.”
More than 80 prints, which include impressions in very fine condition, were acquired, in part, from the Matisse family collections, including the estate of the artist's grandson, Pierre-Nöel Matisse. Also included are a number of prints which were acquired from the Petiet Estate. Henri Petiet, the connoisseur dealer, bought hundreds of prints directly from Matisse with whom he corresponded from 1927 until the time of the artist’s death.
There are three important and notable loans to the New York venue of this exhibition, an early and rare drypoint self-portrait of the artist working on an etching plate, entitled Henri Matisse Etching (1900-03), on loan from The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, and two masterworks of printmaking from the collection of Nelson Blitz, Jr. and Catherine Woodard, New York: the woodcut Le Grand Bois (1906) and the lithograph Grande odalisque à la culotte bayadère (1925), both significant works in the artist’s graphic oeuvre.
A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Marilyn McCully and a print chronology by McCully and Michael Raeburn will be available at the time of the exhibition. Marilyn McCully taught art history at Princeton University from 1974-81 and since then has worked in London as an independent scholar and editor. Michael Raeburn is an independent author, editor, designer and book producer. McCully and Raeburn were authors of Celebrating the Muse: Women in Picasso’s Prints 1905-1968 (Marlborough Gallery, New York, 2010).