Painted circa 1904-05.
Signed Henri Matisse (lower left)
Oil on canvas
11 by 14 in.
27.9 by 35.6 cm
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Druet, 1906, either no. 45 or 55
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Les Fauves, 1950, no. 27
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Selections from five New York Private Collections, 1951
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 5th Anniversary Exhibition, 1953, no. 30 (Nature morte à la serviette)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art; Art Gallery of Toronto, Les Fauves, 1953, no. 92
New York, Wildenstein Gallery, A Loan Exhibition of Seurat and his Friends, 1953-54, no. 109
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Matisse, 1956
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1983, no. 49
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse, A Retrospective, 1992-93, no. 48
Paris, Centre George Pompidou, Henri Matisse 1904-1917, 1993, no. 7
Alfred H. Barr, Matisse, his art, his public, New York, 1951, p. 315
Massimo Carrà and Mario Luzi, L'opera di Matisse 1904-1928, Milan, 1971, no. 32, illustrated p. 86
Pierre Schneider, Matisse, tout l'oeuvre peint 1904-1928, Paris, 1982, no. 32, illustrated p. 86
Jack Flam, Matisse, The Man and his Art, 1869-1918, Ithaca and London, 1986, no. 107, illustrated p. 121
Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Matisse, Rhythm and Line, Paris and New York, 1987, no. 12, illustrated p. 17
Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, New York, 1998, discussed pp. 283-284
(possibly) Galerie Druet, Paris
"Peau de l'Ours," Paris, 1913-14 (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Collection de la "Peau de l'Ours," March 2, 1914, lot 39
André Level, Paris, (acquired from the above and sold: Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Tableaux Modernes (collection L), March 3, 1927, lot 104
Private Collection, Paris
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above)
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on November 17, 1950)
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This colorful still-life was painted circa 1904-05, according to Wanda de Guébriant, after Matisse and his wife had spent the summer in St. Tropez. The artist had been invited here for the season in 1904 by fellow painter Paul Signac, who hoped that Matisse would be inspired by his and Henri Edmond Cross's divisionist technique of painting. Matisse, however, was still very much interested in the works of Cézanne at this point, and for most of the summer, he continued to paint compositions that were visibly indebted to the techniques of the great Post-Impressionist painter. One of these works was Nature morte au purro I, (see fig. 1), a composition of impressive spatial sophistication that also demonstrated Matisse's unique talent as a colorist. The artist was so compelled by this subject that he returned to it a few months later, but this time, he employed a vastly different stylistic approach. The resulting picture, Nature morte au purro II, was considerably more modern than its predecessor and clearly reflected the impact of Signac's Neo-Impressionist aesthetic on Matisse's work. With such a strong use of color and emphatic brush strokes, this picture marks an important evolution in his oeuvre, and is an obvious precursor to the Fauvist style that would take over his production in 1905.
Hilary Spurling has proposed that Matisse did, in fact, complete this picture at the end of the summer of 1904 and discusses Signac's influence on the artist during this period: "Matisse readily responded to his host's liberating modernism. He set to work on the local motifs in St-Tropez, painting boats in harbour, the place des Lices and the seventeenth-century chapel of St. Anne, built above the town with a view over the rooftops, which he also painted. He began to advance cautiously for the second time toward Divisionism itself, making two versions of Still Life with Purro, one of which was a Divisionist transposition of the other. The singing colours once again released by his return to the south made him place less emphasis on his subject, and more on the decorative surface of his canvas. He read Signac's copy of an article by Emile Bernard on Paul Cézanne which included copious quotations from the master, many of them confirming the Neos' revolutionary approach to colour and the creative process ('Painting is classifying one's sensations of colour...Drawing and colour are not separate at all; insofar as you paint, you draw....Penetrate what is before you, and presevere in expressing it as logically as possible' " (Hilary Spurling, The Unknown Matisse, New York, 1998, pp. 283-284).
In addition to its direct relationship to the first Purro picture, Nature morte au Purro II also incorporates some of the same compositional elements - the tablecloth and the fruit - that were featured in another canvas from the previous year, Nature morte, serviette a carreaux, 1903 (see fig. 2). However, the present work demontrates a dramatic departure from the clearly defined modelling employed in the earlier painting, as it presents the shapes and contours of the various jugs, cups, plates and table with free and emphatic dabs of paint. Loosely modeled and with thin, barely noticeable outlining, these objects nevertheless retain their solidity of form, casting dark shadows on each other and on the wall behind them. The artist alternates the clusters and the broadly-spaced dabs of color in order to differentiate space from matter, and, in doing so, defines the spatial relationships among all of the elements of the composition.
Writing about another important neo-Impressionist composition from 1904, Luxe, calme et volupté (a study of which was formerly in the Whitney collection, see fig. 3), Jack Flam has discussed this evolution in Matisse's painting during that summer, and how divisionism allowed the artist to imbue his canvases as never before. "In 1904, after five full years under Cézanne's influence, he seems to have seen neo-impressionism as a means of distancing himself from Cézanne while retaining the essential elements of Cézannian painting. The neo-impressionist system of small regular brushstrokes, for example, was an alternative to the system of small strokes that Cézanne had used before 1900 and with which Matisse was intimately familiar through Three Bathers. Matisse's translation of Signac's version of neo-impressionism gave him a chance to brighten his palette and to confront Cézanne from a position of strength by using stronger color and a very different kind of light. (One thinks of Pissarro's comment that Cézanne always painted "gray days," the same could have been said of most of Matisse's paintings between 1900 to 1904.) The neo-impressionist style also allowed Matisse to use certain aspects of Cézannesque drawing and treatment of contour -- such as the hatching around contours to fix objects and figures to the adjoining background -- in a way that was no longer obviously Cézannesque" (Jack Flam, Matisse, The Man and his Art, 1869-1918, Ithaca and London, 1986, p. 120).
Mr. Whitney purchased this picture as a Christmas present for his wife in 1950. Shortly after the Whitneys acquired it, their art advisor, John Rewald, wrote to Mr. Whitney about a conversation that he recently had with Matisse about the present work: "I saw Matisse today and had a long talk with him....I also told him about your acquisition of the pointillist Still Life which he remembered very well and of which he spoke with great delight. He told me that it was painted while he stayed at Signac's in St. Tropez in 1904. I thought you might like to know about this...." (Letter to John Hay Whitney from John Rewald, dated February 26, 1951).
Fig. 1, Henri Matisse, Nature morte au purro I, 1904, oil on canvas, The Phillips Family Collection, New York
Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Nature morte, serviette à carreaux, 1903, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Etude pour "Luxe, calme et volupté," 1904, oil on canvas, formerly in the Whitney Collection