Press release date: 
Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Media Preview
February 12, 2002
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Examining the role of Pierre Matisse in promoting the work of twentieth-century artists in North America, the Morgan Library presents Pierre Matisse and His Artists from February 14 through May 19, 2002. This is the Morgan's first exhibition devoted exclusively to twentieth-century painting and sculpture. Pierre, the second son of the French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) and his wife Amélie Parayre, earned his own place in the art world as one of the most influential dealers of modern and contemporary art.

Pierre Matisse arrived in New York shortly before Christmas 1924, determined to make his mark. In October 1931 the Pierre Matisse Gallery opened its doors in the Fuller Building on Fifty-seventh Street, just around the corner from the provisional headquarters of the recently instituted Museum of Modern Art. During the early years, the gallery specialized in the works of established painters such as Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), André Derain (1880–1954), Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), and Georges Rouault (1871–1958) as well as paintings and drawings by Henri Matisse. However, Pierre increasingly focused on younger, lesser-known artists including Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola; 1908–2001), Alexander Calder (1898–1976), Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), and Joan Miró (1893–1983). Not only did he introduce their work to American audiences, but also he fostered their critical and popular appreciation.

By the time of his death in 1989, Pierre Matisse had been instrumental in the creation of a community that encompassed the leading artists of the twentieth century along with an impressive roster of distinguished collectors and institutions.

With over sixty paintings, sculpture, and drawings that were shown at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, this exhibition makes clear the remarkable degree to which the dealer enriched the artistic climate of America. Through major paintings and sculpture by Balthus, Calder, Marc Chagall (1887–1985), Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985), Giacometti, Matisse, Roberto Matta Echaurren (b. 1911), Miró, Yves Tanguy (1900–1955), and others, the exhibition examines some of the greatest artists of the period and gives visitors a glimpse of the very private man who opened American eyes to their work.

The impetus for Pierre Matisse and His Artists was the 1997 gift to the Morgan of the vast archives of the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Following Pierre's death, The Pierre Matisse Foundation was created by his heirs with the purpose of organizing the gallery's records, with a view to their eventual donation to an appropriate library or museum. A small, concurrent exhibition in the Forecourt Gallery will include letters, photographs, and catalogues from the Pierre Matisse Gallery Archives.

The exhibition was organized by William M. Griswold, formerly Charles W. Engelhard Curator of Drawings and Prints, Morgan Library, and Jennifer Tonkovich, Assistant Curator of Drawings and Prints, Morgan Library. Ms. Tonkovich is the curator in charge of the exhibition.

Pierre Matisse and His Artists was made possible by The Pierre Matisse Foundation and the Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Foundation. Major support was provided by the Florence Gould Foundation.

Additional assistance was provided by Acquavella Galleries, Leon and Debra Black, Mrs. Alexandre P. Rosenberg, and the Art Dealers Association Foundation, with special support from the Doral Park Avenue Hotel.

A Life Illuminated by Art

Pierre Matisse was born on June 13, 1900, at Bohain-en-Vermandois, near Valenciennes. As a young man, he wished to be a painter, like his father, and his work even was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. By 1923, however, he had come to the realization that he was as interested in selling art as making it, and he took a job at the prestigious Galerie Barbazanges-Hodebert in Paris. About this time, he also began to think he might like to try his luck in New York.

The art world in New York then was entirely different from what it would become by the time of Pierre Matisse's death. When he arrived in 1924, there were few galleries and no museums exhibiting contemporary art. His first exhibition, which featured lithographs and drawings by his father and took place at the shop of the celebrated bookseller Eberhard Weyhe from March to April 1925, was nonetheless successful, and he soon thereafter mounted a second show, of recent French paintings, at the Dudensing Gallery. Pierre Matisse struck up a friendship with Valentine Dudensing, and their ensuing partnership was to give the young Frenchman the experience he needed to open his own gallery a few years later.

On November 8, 1929, the Museum of Modern Art opened with an exhibition of works by Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), Georges Seurat (1859–1891), and Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890). Two years later, the Whitney Studio Club became the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in October 1931, the Pierre Matisse Gallery opened in the Fuller Building. Although eventually he would move into more spacious premises on another floor, Pierre Matisse was to maintain the same address for the next fifty-eight years.

During the early years of the gallery, Matisse specialized in the work of such recently established painters as de Chirico, Derain, Picasso, and Rouault. He also was to remain an important source of paintings and drawings by his father. Increasingly, however, he focused upon the work of younger artists, with whom he was able to deal directly, instead of having to obtain their paintings on the highly competitive secondary market.

As early as 1932, Pierre Matisse had begun to exhibit the work of the young Spanish painter Miró, whose paintings and sculpture were to be a mainstay of the gallery until 1989. In 1938 he devoted a one-man show to another little-known painter, Balthus, whom he would continue to represent for the next five decades. Other artists with whom he forged close relationships soon included Giacometti, whose sculpture appeared in group shows beginning in 1937 and to whom Matisse dedicated historic solo exhibitions in 1948, 1950, 1958, 1961, and 1964, and Dubuffet, whom he represented in the United States from 1946 until 1960.

In the following decades, numerous major galleries opened in New York, but most championed the American artists and European exiles who came to comprise the New York school. With a few notable exceptions, Pierre Matisse staunchly continued to promote European art. At one time or another, his stable of artists encompassed—in addition to Miró, Balthus, Giacometti, and Dubuffet—both Chagall and Tanguy, and the Latin American artists Matta and Wifredo Lam (1902–1982). To his distinguished roster he later added Reginald Cotterell Butler (1913–1981), Raymond Mason (b. 1922), Jean-Paul Riopelle (b. 1923), François Rouan (b. 1943), Zao Wou-ki (b. 1921), and the Spanish painters Manolo Millares (1926–1972), Manuel Rivera (b. 1927), and Antonio Saura (1930–1998). Among the American artists whose work he promoted were the sculptors Calder and Theodore Roszak (1907–1981) and the painters Sam Francis (1923–1994) and Loren MacIver (1909–1998).

The significance of Pierre Matisse in the creation of a market for these artists cannot be overestimated. Most were, in a sense, his discoveries, and it was incumbent upon him to educate collectors about the merits of their works. In this, he was guided by instinct, not public opinion. As he later explained, "I was not thinking of being an educator nor taking a particular interest in the collectors except for the fact that I would try to sell the type of work I like."

His remarkable "eye" and low-key salesmanship were to win the gallery an equally impressive client list. Among the collectors who frequented the gallery were Leigh Block, Gordon Bunshaft, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., Ralph Colin, Jacques Gelman, Samuel A. Lewisohn, Wright S. Ludington, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Edward G. Robinson, James Thrall Soby, and G. David Thompson. Many of these collections have since entered the public domain, as have those of Matisse's clients Joseph H. Hirshhorn and Duncan Phillips, founders of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Phillips Collection, both in Washington, D.C., and Algur Hurtle Meadows, who in 1965 created the museum that bears his name, in Dallas, Texas.

Pierre Matisse also worked directly with museums. Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum, and perhaps above all, the Museum of Modern Art would be very much the poorer had he not made a concerted effort to place the work of artists he represented in their collections. In the course of these transactions, he developed close friendships with some of the most influential museum professionals of his day: A. Everett (Chick) Austin, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., James Johnson Sweeney, and later, William S. Lieberman and William Rubin.

Between 1931 and 1989, Pierre Matisse organized hundreds of exhibitions. In 1945 he was the first to exhibit Miró's Constellations. Three years later he mounted the first retrospective anywhere of sculpture by Giacometti. And the 1949 show of recent works by his father provided the world its first glimpse of the paper cutouts that are among Henri Matisse's greatest achievements.

The catalogues and checklists that accompanied these and other exhibitions at the gallery invariably were of a matchless elegance. The catalogue of the 1948 exhibition of works by Giacometti, for example, is a masterpiece of modern design. Among the writers and critics who contributed prefatory narative to Pierre Matisse's publications were Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, James Thrall Soby, and James Johnson Sweeney.

When Pierre Matisse died in 1989, he had left his mark. The degree to which he enriched the artistic climate of his adopted country is the subject of the exhibition, which comprises only a fraction of the astounding number of twentieth-century paintings, drawings, and sculpture that passed through his hands.

As Pierre's son Paul writes in the exhibition catalogue, "His absolute belief in art was the source of the great respect with which he treated his artists. It was also the heart of the esteem in which he in turn was held by his artists, his friends, and his clients. His life was entirely illuminated by art."