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Study for Song

Henri Matisse (French, Le Cateau-Cambrésis 1869–1954 Nice)

Charcoal on paper
25 3/4 x 20 in. (65.4 x 50.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection, 2002
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    In 1934 Nelson Rockefeller commissioned the architect Wallace K. Harrison to redesign an apartment on Fifth Avenue for his growing family. By 1938 Rockefeller had acquired space on two additional floors of the building, where Harrison created a living room nearly forty-seven feet long, paneled in walnut with Rococo-inspired cutouts for doorframes and window frames. Rockefeller commissioned painted surrounds—one by Matisse, the other by Léger—for the fireplaces at either end. The furnishings were supplied by the French decorator Jean-Michel Frank, who collaborated with the sculptor Alberto Giacometti and the illustrator Christian Bérard.

    Matisse’s final overmantel painting portrayed four female figures interacting in pairs; this study for its top section depicts two women listening to a song. The drawing was executed during the early stages of preparation of the decorative scheme, before Matisse began working on the canvas (which he completed in Paris and sent to New York for installation). The composition emanates the atmosphere of a civilized, sheltered interior, with the protagonists engaged in a dreamlike pastime. The figures are defined through the use of an arabesque line, gracefully curving against the more geometric lattice background of armchairs and strongly emphasized rhododendron leaves.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: L.R.: Studie pour la décoration / de Mr Nelson Rockefeller / Henri Matisse / 10/38

  • Provenance

    Henri Matisse (1938 - his d. 1954); Estate of Henri Matisse, Paris (1954); Pierre Matisse, New York (from the estate of HM, 1955 - his d.1989); his widow, Maria-Gaetana Matisse, née von Spreti, New York (1989 - her d. 2001); Pierre and Maria Gaetana Matisse Foundation (2002; gift to MMA).

  • Exhibition History

    "Henri Matisse: Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, organized in collaboration with the artist," Philadelphia Museum of Art, April 3-May 9 1948, exh. cat. with foreword by Henry Clifford, letter and text by Matisse, text by Louis Aragon, no. 144, p. 44;

    "Henri Matisse," Galerie des Ponchettes, Nice, January-March 1950, exh. cat. by Union me?diterrane?enne pour l'art moderne, Musées de Nice, with preface by Georges Salles and essay by J. Cassarini, drawings section, no. 11, p. 32;

    "Henri Matisse: Dessins et Sculpture," Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, May 29-September 7, 1975, exh. cat. with introduction by Dominique Bozo, essay by Dominique Fourcade, catalogue by Dominique Fourcade and Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, no. 105, pp. 144-145, ill.;

    "Henri Matisse: dessins et sculpture / tekeningen en sculpturen" (venue of Paris 1975), Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, September 27-October 26, 1975, exh. cat. with introduction by Dominique Bozo (in French and Flemish), no. 96, ill.;

    "Henri Matisse, 1869-1954," Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz, November 16, 1995-February 18, 1996, exh. cat. by Peter Baum, no. 64, pp. 82-83 (ill.), 154;

    "New York Collects: Drawings and Watercolors, 1900-1950," Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, May 20-August 29, 1999, exh. cat. with foreword by Charles E. Pierce, Jr., introduction by William M. Griswold, essays by Jack Flam and Carol Selle, no. 11, pp. 52-53, ill.;

    "The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection," Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh. in three parts, September 28, 2004-January 30, 2005, no cat. (see MMA Bulletin 2004)

  • References

    René Micha, "La 'creative method' de Matisse," Art International, vol. 19, no. 8 (October 20, 1975), pp. 59 (ill.), 60;

    Christian Zervos, ed., "Dessins récents de Henri Matisse," Cahiers d'Art (Paris), vol. 14, no. 1-4 (1939), ill. p. 16;

    René Micha, "La " Native Method " de Matisse" (review of Paris 1975), Art International (October 1975), pp. 59 (ill.), 60;

    Lydia Delectorskaya, L'Apparente facilité: Henri Matisse, peintures de 1935-1939 (Paris 1986), pp. 32, 282 (ill.), 278-287 [ills, related works, including the finished decoration];

    Gilles Néret, Matisse (Paris 1991), p. 198, fig. 290;

    Magdalena Dabrowski, William S. Lieberman, and Sabine Rewald, "Selections from the Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection," Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61, no. 4 (Spring 2004), pp. 24-25, ill.;

    Louise Nicholson, "A Man of Infinite Taste: The Met has Bagged a Major Treasure in the Pierre Matisse Collection," Apollo (October 2004), p. 85.

    Magdalena Dabrowski in The American Matisse: The Dealer, His Artists, His Collection. The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection (New York, 2009), pp. 109-10, 162, ill.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History