Star Lot from Rockefeller Collection: Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias

In our previous article, we introduced Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en feur, one of the star lots from Christie’s ‘Sale of the Century’ – The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. This time, Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art, is going to talk about another star lot, Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Odalisque couchée aux magnolias.

Lot no.: 8
Size: 60.5 x 81.1 cm
Painted in Nice, 1923
Estimate On Request(US$50,000,000)

Conor Jordan, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art, Christie's

Jordan: Henri Matisse was a contemporary of Picasso. They have very parallel careers in certain ways but they were different characters. Matisse first burst onto the scene as the leader of the ‘Fauves’ (Wild Beast) Movement. Their paintings are about hot, expressive color. Matisse went through a more experimental phase of almost abstraction.

Jordan: And then, he moved to Nice in the south of France at the end of the 1910s. He made his home there for most of the rest of his career. And the painting behind me, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias is a wonderful example of his style in the mid 1920s when he was working in Nice.

Q: Why did Matisse paint a odalisque?

Jordan: Matisse has taken the subject of ‘odalisque’, the female nude, because it was something very much approved and sanctioned by art history. Matisse was keen, like Picasso, to measure himself against the masters of the past times. And great French 19th century artists, such as Delacroix and Ingres, who had painted famous ‘odalisque’. So Matisse took up the challenge and this is his version of it.

Michelangelo’s figures of Night at the Medici Chapel in Florence

Jordan: It was also a reference to sculptures of Renaissance time, a reference to Michelangelo. And figures of Night from the Medici Chapel in Florence.

Q: What’s so special about this work?

Jordan: It’s very much a synthesis, this picture. So, it includes Matisse’s other love of color and pattern. We have both natural pattern, which is the fruits, and the ‘Magnolias’, which has been pinned onto a silk screen. And then you have the manmade pattern, the silk fabrics with organic shapes, and the geometric stripe, green couch that she’s lying on.

Jordan (continues): All of these go towards creating, almost the utopia, the nirvana that Matisse was seeking to find in his pictures. He wanted it to be places of rest, places of solace. They were without the anxiety that you find in Picasso paintings. They were more poetic space.

The painting was hung on the wall in the Rockefeller’s country house

Q: When did the Rockefeller purchase this painting?

Jordan: This picture was bought by the Rockefellers from a famous Chicago collection in the late 1950s and hung on the sitting room wall in their country house since then.

Jordon has introduced two star lots from the Rockefeller Collection and he is going to talk about the last one, Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie in our next article. Please stay tuned.

Auction details

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: 19th and 20th Century Art Evening Sale
Sale date: 8/5/2018|7pm