The Eyes

The Eyes

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There's Something About Matisse . . .

I've always been enamored by the work of Matisse. In the late 1980s while living in Baltimore, I visited the wonderful Cone Collection, filled with the genius of Matisse, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, acquired their first Matisse in 1906 and, during the next four decades, went on to form one of the world’s great collections of his art.

Yesterday, during a visit to Second Story Books, I discovered on the shelf a book titled, Matisse: His Art and His Public, by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., director of the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA mounted an exhibition of Matisse in 1951 with the book copyrighted the same year. Still in its original jacket, the book retailed (in 1951) for $12.50, and on the facing page the Second Story Books' price, written in pencil for this used book, was also $12.50. Almost 60 years later, I paid the same price for the book.

Book Jacket

Matisse: His Art and His Public (1951)

While paging through the book, I found a letter typed on stationary from the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. The letter is addressed to a college professor in Kingston, New York who had inquired about a poster from the gallery. It is signed by Pierre's wife, Maria-Gaetana Matisse. A quick Internet search revealed Pierre Matisse was the youngest son of the artist who opened a gallery in New York in 1931. I'm assuming this book belonged to the professor and she tucked the letter inside it. [I'm guilty of stuffing something inside books myself all the time!] Sometimes thinking about the journey a second-hand book may have taken is part of the fun of acquiring it. Pierre and Maria amassed a significant collection of 20th century art, donating over 100 of those works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Philippe de Montebello, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented: "The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection is both an historic and highly personal one, assembled by an eminent art world figure who formed close friendships with many of the artists whose work he represented and acquired. The collection is also notable for the number of important works by Henri Matisse, bequeathed from father to son. We are extremely grateful to the Foundation for this generous and meaningful gift, which enormously enhances the Metropolitan's collection of modern art."

I know Knox Martin has much to say about Matisse, and I would love to hear the wisdom he commands of the master. Earlier in the week while in Boston, I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. The Terrace, Saint-Tropez (1904) hangs in the front room. I also credit my partner, James Brock (JKB), for continuing to share his knowledge and furthering our own intellectual curiosity about Matisse. His masterful pastel saluting Harmony in Red (1908) hangs in my sight as I write this. Matisse is forever near me.