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  • '[Dance] – It’s the best thing in the world. I’m not talking about the kind of excitement that made me dance the whole night through… I’m talking about the eternal dance that’s rejuvenated humanity down the ages; it makes happiness more intense, disasters more bearable, and saves us from sadness and despair.'1
    —Henri Matisse
    In 1930 Matisse was commissioned by Dr Albert C. Barnes to create a mural for the main gallery of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. Matisse was given creative free-range for the project, so when devising the imagery he returned to his foremost source - dance. Taking inspiration from popular folkdances such as the Sardana and the Farandole, Matisse’s dancing figures leap across the frieze-like composition, flowing together and creating a rhythm with the planes of colour behind them.


    Cobalt blue, rose pink and black were chosen by Matisse specifically to contrast and complement the greens of the gardens that could be viewed through the gallery windows. The pale grey of the figures was selected to harmonise with the limestone of the gallery’s interior. The figures’ monumental form combined with the cool, stony grey ensures that the dancers become architectonic themselves, as though integral to the structure of the arches they dance beneath.


    In planning the composition for La Danse, Matisse utilised his iconic cut-paper method at a huge studio in Nice that he hired especially for this large-scale project. He painted the garage’s walls to mimic the Barnes Foundation gallery, installed a skylight to imitate the gallery’s natural lighting, and constructed an immense canvas with precise measurements to match the gallery’s architecture. 
     

    Henri Matisse drawing with a Bamboo stick at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, 1931. Image © Barnes Foundation / Bridgeman Images, Artwork © Succession H. Matisse / DACS 2021

    'At a certain point, there came a flash of inspiration. I took my big charcoal, attached it to the end of a big bamboo, and began drawing the circle of my dancers, from one end to the other of my thirteen-meter surface. I’d got off the mark, taken possession of my surface entirely through the power of my imagination. That’s how I made my painting: entirely from feeling, without a model.'2 —Henri Matisse 

    Just as Matisse was finishing the mural at his studio in the South of France, it was realised that a crucial mistake had been made. In the multitude of letters sent across the Atlantic between the artist and his patron, the measurements had been mixed up. The mural Matisse had created would not fit the gallery in Merion, so the artist had no choice but to start over. Nonetheless, Matisse completed the incorrect version - as the Merion commission was for a private institution, he hoped that the first attempt could be shown in a public gallery. The first version of La Danse was later acquired by the Musée d'Art Moderne de Ville de Paris, and it is still on display there today.

     

    1 S. Guilbaut (ed.), Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, London: Tate, 2013, p. 191
    2 S. Guilbaut (ed.), Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview, London: Tate, 2013, p. 114

    • Condition Report

    • Provenance

      Private American Collector, New York
      By descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      Claude Duthuit 247

    • Artist Biography

      Henri Matisse

      French • 1869 - 1954

      The leading figure of the Fauvist movement at the turn of the 20th century, Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the giant of modern art alongside friend and rival Pablo Picasso. Working as a painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor for over five decades, he radically challenged traditional conventions in art by experimenting with vivid colors, flat shapes and distilled line. Rather than modeling or shading to lend volume to his pictures, the French artist employed contrasting areas of unmodulated color. Heavily influenced by the art and visual culture of non-Western cultures, his subjects ranged from nudes, dancers, odalisques, still lifes and interior scenes and later evolved into the graphic semi-abstractions of his cut-outs of his late career. 

      View More Works

4

La Danse (The Dance) (D. 247)

1935-36
Etching and aquatint in colours, on Arches paper, with full margins.
I. 23.5 x 74 cm (9 1/4 x 29 1/8 in.)
S. 29.5 x 80 cm (11 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.)

Signed and numbered 21/50 in pencil (there were also 5 artist's proofs), printed by Roger Lacourière, Paris, framed.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£20,000 - 30,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £20,160

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 19-20 January 2022