Arbre de Neige, a vibrant and important cutout by the French painter Henri Matisse, leads Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in New York on Wednesday 17 May 2017. It is estimated at $800,000-1,200,000.
Matisse's cutouts are now among his most recognisable works. They combine the fluid line of his drawings with the brilliant colour sense of his paintings, as the recent landmark exhibition at the Tate and MoMA demonstrated so memorably. The location of Arbre de Neige was not known to the curators of that show as it has been in a Canadian private collection since 1968. It was sold in that year by the celebrated Swedish collector Theodor Ahrenberg, a great connoisseur of Matisse's work, who had acquired it directly from the artist through Heinz Berggruen.
Arbre de Neige was created in 1947 as one of a series of small scale works in richly coloured paper with which the artist covered the walls of his studio at the Villa Le Rêve at Vence, in the south of France. Matisse had first used the technique to stunning effect in designing his pivotal print series Jazz, conceived during the war and published in 1947. Each element was cut with masterful certainty into heavy paper, a technique Matisse described as "drawing with scissors". The cutouts were then pinned against sheets of complementary colours and arranged on the wall at the artist's direction. The loosely affixed elements and their delicate organic shapes reacted to the shifting light and gentle breezes to create an exotic indoor garden.
When Matisse moved to Nice in June 1949, the wall of cutouts was taken down and individually mounted and framed for exhibition. Arbre de Neige is only lightly glued: the edges of the cutout are still proud of the sheet, and the pin holes are clearly evident, giving it a fresh and very sculptural aspect.
Matisse was keenly aware that he had broken through to a new means of expression. As he said, 'by creating these coloured paper cutouts it seems to me that I am happily anticipating things to come. I don't think that I have ever found such balance as I have in creating [them]. But I know that it will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future'.
Bonhams Vice President and Director of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York, William O'Reilly said, "Henri Matisse's cut paper compositions are in many ways the culmination of his lifetime of artistic experiment. Their strength and innovation are the result of his restless quest to describe pure form and pure colour. The reappearance of such a characteristic work from the group after almost 50 years is an exciting event".
Other sale highlights include:
• An untitled watercolour on black paper by Wassily Kandinsky, painted in 1941. Estimate $300,000-500,000.
• Paul-Emile écrivant by Camille Pissarro, a charming depiction of the painter's fifth child estimated at $220,00-280,000
• Tête de femme by Matisse, a portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya, the assistant who helped the artist in the creation of Arbre de Neige. It is estimated at $150,000-200,000
For further information and images call Lucinda Bredin on +44 (0) 20 7468 8394, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.