Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Plum Blossoms by Matisse now at MOMA

MoMA Acquires a Mystery Matisse

By VERENA DOBNIKAssociated Press Writer
September 9, 2005,

NEW YORK -- The case of the mystery Matisse last seen in Paris more than three decades ago has been solved.

"The Plum Blossoms," a major painting by the French master, has resurfaced as a new acquisition of the Museum of Modern Art. The painting is likely worth at least $20 million.

"For our 1992 retrospective of Matisse, I'd traveled from Japan to Australia to Mexico to the Soviet Union -- and could not find this painting. So this summer, when the call came, I said, 'How could it be?'" John Elderfield, the museum's chief curator of painting and sculpture and a Matisse expert, said Thursday.

The work Henri Matisse created in 1948 was purchased for MoMA by the museum's new president, Marie-Josee Kravis, and her husband, financier Henry Kravis. One of the artist's late works before his death in 1954, it was last publicly displayed in 1970 at the Grand Palais in Paris and was then sold to an unidentified buyer, Elderfield said.

This summer, MoMA was approached by a New York dealer on behalf of a European collector who did not wish to be named. The price was not disclosed, since the transaction with the Kravises was private. But works of this artistic caliber generally go for tens of millions of dollars.
Although MoMA owns about 50 canvases and sculptures by Matisse, the museum did not have any of his late paintings.

In brilliant hues of red and orange, "The Plum Blossoms" shows a woman with a blank, featureless face sitting at a table, with a huge vase of flowers in the foreground. Matisse's aim in leaving the face blank was "to encourage you to look all over the surface of the painting," said Elderfield. "He realized we are biologically constructed to focus on faces more than anything. So he came to the conclusion that the way to make the eyes circulate freely in the space was not to paint the face."

"The Plum Blossoms" is one of seven interiors Matisse painted at his studio in the South of France, in Vence. The other six are owned by various museums and foundations.

"After this series, he really stopped painting," Elderfield said. In his 70s, Matisse ended his life's work by creating whimsical paper cutouts. He had kept "Plum Blossoms" after painting it, and it passed on to his heirs.

Elderfield said the work is in exceptionally fine condition.

"Paintings age, and the more they travel, the more they age," he noted. "This one hasn't traveled for a long time. The surface is so pristine, and the canvas so brilliantly white. It remains untouched."

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