Originally created 05/24/04

Met unveils gifts from art dealer son of Henri Matisse



NEW YORK -- Pierre Matisse cuts a debonaire figure in an oil portrait by Baltus that introduces an engrossing survey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of the late art dealer's personal collection.

Matisse, in jacket, slacks and striped tie, locks eyes with viewers, his lips set in a wry smile, his body in a casual pose. The colors are muted browns and grays, except for an eye-catching crimson sock exposed at his ankle - a subtle touch by the French artist who specialized in erotic realism.

The portrait dates to 1938, when Matisse was in Paris courting Baltus as a client and meeting with other European artists he represented at his Manhattan gallery, including his famous father, Henri Matisse.

The younger Matisse may have lived in the shadow of an avant-garde colossus, but he managed to forge his own identity by introducing many Americans to the School of Paris - Marc Chagall, Giorgio De Chirico, Andre Derain, Joan Miro, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Tanguy and Alberto Giacometti - at his gallery on 57th Street.

"He had perfect taste," said William S. Lieberman, chairman of the department of modern art at the Met, who curated the show that opened Tuesday. "He was a wonderful man."

The first installment of the "The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection" donated to the Met encompasses 44 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures, along with nine related works, from 1911-1964.

Works by all the greats are on view, from Henri Matisse to Chagall and Miro, along with surrealists Rene Magritte, Leonora Carrington and Wifredo Lam.

Highlights include Chagall's "The Betrothed," a 1916 oil portrait of his fiancee, Bella Rosenfeld; Matisse's 1904 "Chapel of Saint Joseph, Saint-Tropez"; Giacometti's "Tall Figure," a 7-foot bronze from 1947; Dubuffet's "A Widow," a 1943 oil on canvas; and Magritte's "The Eternally Obvious," a 1948 oil on canvas of the nude body of a blond woman in five separate mountings.

The Matisse collection, more than 100 works in all, was given to the Met in 2002 by the family foundation after the death of Pierre's fourth wife, Tana.

It is one of the largest additions to the Met's holdings of modern art, particularly of Henri Matisse, whose 60 works from 1904 to 1952 include five bronzes, four paintings, 14 drawings, a painted plate, a large paper cutout and 29 prints. These works were inherited by Pierre after his father's death in 1954.

The yearlong exhibition will include two more installations featuring more recent modern works collected by Pierre Matisse in the two decades before his death in 1989.

Born in 1900, the younger of Henri Matisse's two sons, Pierre studied music and art in France before deciding make his own way in America. Immigrating in 1924, he struggled at first to establish himself as an art dealer, and finally managed to open a small gallery on the 17th floor of an office building in 1931 at the height of the Depression.

Resourceful, determined and well-connected, he stuck out the lean years to become New York's leading dealer of avant-garde art from the Parisian colony.

As postwar business grew, Matisse moved downstairs in the Fuller Building to the fourth floor in 1947, where he remained for the next 42 years.

Pierre Matisse's portrait by Baltus isn't his only starring role in an important canvas.

In his father's 1916 cubist masterpiece, "The Piano Lesson," young Pierre is pictured practicing behind an ornate music stand, his oval face marked by a slash of shadow. The scene includes two female figures, one of them nude, and an open window on a balcony above a green expanse - the artist's dynamic vision of adjacent spatial planes conveyed on one canvas.

Owned by New York's Museum of Modern Art, the oil painting was featured in the blockbuster "Matisse Picasso" retrospective in 2002-03.

The current show runs through June 26, 2005, and will not travel.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art: www.metmuseum.org