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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s to Auction Henri Matisse Bronze Sculptures

Sotheby’s will be offering at auction a cast of each of Henri Matisse’s spectacular bas-relief nudes, known collectively as Les Nus de dos (The Backs). The unprecedented sale of the four monumental bronze sculptures will begin with Matisse’s first incarnation of the form, Nu de dos (1er état), on offer in the 2 November Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York (est. $20/30 million*). Conceived in 1908-09 at the culmination of Matisse’s involvement with the Fauves, the sculpture exemplifies the fluidity of line that dominated his paintings from this era.

The artist’s later three iterations of this theme, Dos II, Dos III and Dos IV, will be offered individually in the next three consecutive Evening Sales of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s: London, February 2012; New York, May 2012; and London, June 2012 (pictured at bottom). Each of the four works was conceived individually over the course of two decades, and together they chart the evolution of Matisse’s artistic development through the early 20th century. They are, as John Elderfield, preeminent Matisse scholar and Chief Curator Emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York has written, “broadly acknowledged to comprise not only Matisse’s most ambitious sculptural enterprise, but also one of the greatest achievements of his long artistic career – among the few truly legendary works in the history of modern art.”

The bronzes have been consigned by The Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas, and proceeds will further support the community of Fort Worth – the Foundation’s primary mission since its inception 30 years ago. The Foundation acquired the works in 1982 from the famed California collector Norton Simon, who had bought them from the artist’s Estate in 1966. Through the generosity of the Burnett Foundation, the four bronzes were on public display for ten years at the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas.

“By far the most important focus of the Burnett Foundation has always been and will continue to be the city of Fort Worth itself,” said Neils Agather, Executive Director of the Burnett Foundation. “In the thirty years since its inception, the Foundation has granted over $420 million, supporting health, education, human services and arts initiatives, primarily in Fort Worth. Among the many recent projects we have supported in Fort Worth include the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Make-A-Wish Foundation, TCU, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives.

Mr. Agather continued: “Over the years, the value of the Backs has grown significantly. It now far exceeds anything that could justify owning them as a part of the Foundation’s mission, which is to support activities in the community and not to own art. The sale of the Backs will allow the Foundation to further support Fort Worth.”

“The Backs represent Matisse’s crowning achievement in sculpture, and one of the cornerstones of the modern canon,” said Simon Shaw, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York. “The result will be the most significant offering of the artist’s sculpture in market history. Each of the monumental bronzes is considered to be an icon of modern sculpture: from the Fauve lyricism of the first 1908-09 sculpture, to the Cubist fragmentation of the 1911-12 and 1913-16 versions, and, finally, to the stream-lined, minimalist structure of the final incarnation in 1930. This particular group of Backs has the rare distinction of all bearing the same edition number. Moreover, they are the only homogeneously-numbered set in private hands today.”

Mr. Shaw continued: “In the grander scheme of the artist’s career, Nu de dos (1er état) was the springboard from which Matisse’s style would continuously evolve, ultimately arriving at the cut-outs of his final years. The artist’s handling of the body in this first version, with the sweeping arabesque of the arm, the elegant tilt of the hip and the sinuous curve of the spine, reflects the lyricism that would come to define his most celebrated compositions in oil. Many would even argue that Back I presciently forecasts the linear brilliance for which Matisse would be renowned more than any other work in his career.”

Image: Henri Matisse, Nu de dos (1er état), 1908-09. Estimate: $20-30 million. Photo: Sotheby’s.

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