Rare Matisse Works Up for Sale


Riding a wave of Matisse publicity, Sotheby’s has announced that it will sell four monumental cast-bronze reliefs from Matisse’s “Les Nus de dos (The Backs)” over the next year. The 6-by-4-foot works were made from plaster bas-reliefs, depicting a nude female figure from behind, the artist created between 1909 and 1930. The works subtly reflect his stylistic shifts, from his Fauvist period of the early 20th century, through Cubism to a greater abstraction. The bronze casts were all made posthumously.

In November 2010, another version of Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV) was the top lot at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sale in New York, bringing $48.8 million, well above its high estimate of $35 million. That work, reportedly purchased by Gagosian Gallery, was the first of any from the series to appear at auction, and set a record for the artist. The price was likely bolstered by the recent exhibition “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917,” which had just closed in October at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

First to hit the block, on Nov. 2, is Nu de dos (1er état). With an estimate of $20–30 million, the 1908-09 piece, the most realistic depiction of the bunch, was also the first of the series that Matisse made. The other three (Dos II, III and IV) will consecutively be offered in London in February 2012, New York in May, and again in London in June. The successive sales make it unlikely that the group will be kept together.

This set of bronzes has an illustrious provenance, having been acquired by Norton Simon from the artist’s estate in 1966, and sold in 1982 to the Burnett Foundation of Fort Worth. The foundation is selling the works to help fund its community programs, which include health, education and human services initiatives. In Fort Worth, the works were on view at the Kimbell Art Museum for 10 years. Complete sets of “Les Nus de dos” are also owned by MoMA, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris.