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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pierre Matisse

The Painter's Family, ca. 1915, Henri Matisse.
Pierre Matisse is the boy on the right.
We could almost say unequivocally that one of the prerequisites of being an artist is also being what we call a "pack rat." Of course, usually no one but the immediate family and a few friends are aware of this until the artist dies. Then it all gets sold at auction, goes to an heir's attic, or is bundled off to a museum. I shudder to think of what others will think of some of the stuff I've collected over the years, and I'm not even the real pack rat in the family, my son is. Yet I have a huge bag full of patch cords. I have (and use) no less than four glass paperweights. Our attic is full of old computer equipment that may or may not still work, which I can't bear to throw away. And to me there seems something slightly sacrilegious about discarding old Christmas decorations. But that's minor league compared to some artists. In 1989, Pierre Matisse, yes, Henri's son, a New York art dealer, died and left 219 cartons of pack rat material to the J. Pierpont Morgan Library. It took ten years to inventory the stuff. Wouldn't you like to get your hands on some of that?!

The Matisse family on horseback. Pierre is
second from left. His father, Henri, is to his right.
There was found, for instance, a hand-drawn Christmas card from Joan Miro mixed in with pencil sketches by Alexander Calder of some of his mobiles. For sixty years Pierre Matisse used his family connections to collect, market, and promote the work of artists such as Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Miro, Jean Dubuffet and Marc Chagall. He knew them all, in most cases before they were known by the rest of the world. He brought modern art to an American public that wasn't all too sure, at the time, the whole thing wasn't just a gigantic, international scam of some sort. And in doing so, it wouldn't be too risky to say that he may have been responsible for shaping what we now know as modern art as much or more than his famous father. For most of his career, on both sides of the Atlantic, he was simply the most important art dealer in the world.

Pierre Matisse, 1980
Pierre was born in Paris in 1900 at a time when his father's star  was just starting to soar. He came to New York in the 1920s and opened his own gallery on East 57th Street in 1931. He chose his artists carefully and stuck by them even when the public hated their work.  He had a reserved, formal quality, and his gallery reflected this aspect of his personality. His son, Paul, 77, now a sculptor, recalls the gallery as being quietly elegant, and initially at least, not particularly profitable--"It was like walking into a small museum." His father referred to it as like publishing poetry. His name gave him clout in the art world, but he was always careful never to overplay this advantage. Eventually, as his artists became fixtures on the contemporary art scene, he, along with them, became quite wealthy. Paul remembers his grandfather too, and recalls that during his lifetime, he always held his son in the highest regard, even if he was as art dealer.
Musical Fence, Paul Matisse. The hollow tubes play a melody
as one passes by with stick in hand.

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