HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954) Paysage, Corse  (Painted in Corsica in 1898 )

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Lot 3AR
Paysage, Corse

Sold for £ 156,312 (US$ 202,703) inc. premium
HENRI MATISSE (1869-1954)
Paysage, Corse
signed 'H. Matisse' (lower right)
oil on panel
12.7 x 22.6cm (5 x 8 7/8in).
Painted in Corsica in 1898


  • The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the late Madame Wanda de Guébriant.

    Perls Collection, New York.
    Maurice Gutman Collection, New York (acquired from the above circa 1965).
    Charles Kurt Silberstein Collection, New York; his estate sale, Christie's, New York, 10 May 2007, lot 265.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    J. Poncin, Matisse à Ajaccio, 1898. Lumière et couleur révélées, Ajaccio, 2017, no. 9 (illustrated p. 133).

    Paysage, Corse and the series it comes from stands as a precursor to Matisse's revolutionary artistic style, precipitating the Fauve movement and the lifelong experimentation with colour and form that this would ignite. Dating to 1898 the present work illustrates a definitive change and newfound freedom in the artist's palette and brushwork.

    Matisse first started painting as a 20-year-old law student, whilst recovering from appendicitis at his parents' home in Bohain-en-Vermandois. Within the year he had abandoned law and moved to Paris to study under Gustave Moreau, who encouraged him to examine the Old Masters and to develop his use of colour. By the mid to late 1890s a Corot-like influence can be seen in a slight softening of line and a certain luminosity hitherto not seen in his sombre landscapes. However, desolate views of Brittany in 1896 such as Belle-Île show how even two years before the present work was painted, Matisse's palette was comparatively subdued.

    Matisse was introduced to Impressionism through his friendship with the Australian artist John Russell, who was painting alongside Monet and van Gogh. Russell gave him a drawing by the latter and taught the younger artist about colour theory, grinding and mixing his own pigments whilst painting with Matisse on Belle-Île. This transformative sojourn culminated in La Desserte of 1896-1897, regarded as Matisse's first truly modern work.

    The artist's studies continued when he travelled to London to see the works of Turner on the recommendation of Camille Pissarro. Matisse had married Amélie Parayre on 10 January 1898 and the pair honeymooned in London expressly to view these paintings. Matisse would describe seeing these works as an epiphany: 'Turner lived in a cellar. Once a week he had the shutters suddenly flung open, and then what incandescence! What dazzlement! What jewels!' (Matisse quoted in H. Spurling, The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse, Vol. I, 1869-1908, London, 1998, p. 156).

    From London the newly-weds progressed to Corsica, arriving on 9 February 1898. Thus far unable to support himself through painting alone, Matisse decided to allow himself a year dedicated to art. Five months were spent on the Mediterranean island before the couple relocated to Toulouse: this year would become a pivotal point for the artist, whose artistic development 'came with his travels. In Brittany his palette grew light; in Corsica and Toulouse it caught fire' (P. Schneider, Matisse, London, 1984, p. 605).

    In Corsica, Matisse was said to revel in the slow island pace and timeless mountainous landscape. The couple rented two rooms in the Villa de la Rocca on the outskirts of Ajaccio and in the five months he spent there Matisse produced 55 paintings, most of which were executed in or around these lodgings. His subjects tended to be simply grouped still lifes and the surrounding landscape, such as the present work: 'the motif to which Matisse returned more often than to any other on the island was a single olive tree, or group of trees, on a flat patch of ground: again and again his trees caught fire in a blaze of colour, becoming sometimes almost incandescent beneath his prodding, probing brushstrokes' (H. Spurling, op. cit., p. 167).

    Paysage, Corse focuses on this olive grove with the scorched ground and Mediterranean blue sky above. Jacques Poncin identifies a wide lane on the right leading to a gated garden, and an ochre roof denoting the presence of a casetta, possibly used as a tool shed for the grove. The whole is a rich tapestry of colour, with verdant green foliage, azure blue sky, yellow patches of sunshine and russet soil. The composition appears more abstracted when viewed closely, as the hut, tree and path dissolve into individual strokes of pigment. The tactile, bold brushwork throughout imbues the picture with a strong sense of movement and place – one can almost feel the summer breeze and hear the leaves rustling. Multi-directional strokes collide and clash, whilst Matisse starts to use a heavier impasto than hitherto seen. This increasingly expressive technique is wonderfully described by Pierre Schneider: 'thickened, scumbled, whipped, piled up, or crushed, the paint at times recalled the lavas brewed by Soutine, whom Matisse was later to admire and one of whose canvases (Sunset in Corsica) he bought at public auction' (P. Schneider, op. cit., p. 115).

    The landscape itself no longer seems to be the sole focus of the work but acts more as a vehicle for Matisse's artistic experimentation. In this, critics have seen the influence of Turner's dream-like compositions, an ethos echoed by the French artist who described his own work as 'a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream inspired by reality' (Matisse quoted in ibid. p. 60).

    The clear southern light was a revelation to Matisse who had grown up in North Eastern France, and with this light came his emboldened palette. Still lifes that he painted in Corsica such as Nature morte aux oranges (II), 1899, particularly show the truly astounding progress Matisse had made in just a few years. The highly-keyed colours and free brushwork of these compositions were ground-breaking for their time and marked a radical departure from contemporary artistic taste: 'his Corsican pictures were too disturbing to be shown to his contemporaries except in private. Evenepoel [Matisse's friend and fellow artist] wrote reproachfully that they looked as if they had been done through gritted teeth: sketchy, crude, affected, wilfully.' However, he later conceded that 'everything became grey, grey and neutral beside it' (H. Spurling, op. cit., pp. 168-169).

    Identified as 'proto-Fauve', the Corsican paintings stand as a seminal series within Matisse's oeuvre. The artist would go on to research Signac's manifestos on colour theory and Divisionism before founding the infamous Fauve movement and going on to become one of the most influential masters of twentieth century art. Speaking of 1898, the year Paysage, Corse was painted, Matisse declared, 'soon there it came to me, like a revelation, the love of materials for their own sake. I felt growing within me a passion for colour' (Matisse quoted in H. Spurling, op. cit., p. 164).
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