A conversation with the late grandson of Matisse

Below is an edited excerpt from a conversation with Claude Duthuit, late grandson of Henri Matisse, on November 1, 2010, at The Jewish Museum with our Associate Curator, Karen Levitov. The full interview can be found in the catalogue that accompanies Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore.

KL: The exhibition focuses on how the Cone sisters collected, so we are showing the artworks in the order in which they were acquired. The first Matisse oil painting purchased by the Cone sisters was Yellow Pottery from Provence, a Fauve period work.

CD: Speaking about [Fauve work], Matisse said, “It took a lot of gall—guts—to paint it, but much more to buy it.” It is true. Those [Fauve] exhibitions received horrible reactions in France.

KL: Could you speak about Matisse’s sculpture?

CD: What is extraordinary about Matisse’s sculpture is that he’s got an unbelievable sense of proportion, in the way that you absolutely can’t judge [from a picture] if something is one foot high or two inches. [Small Head with Comb] is a tiny, tiny work. And even the great big Back sculptures can be reduced. [Large Seated Nude] was made for an enormous space; it just sort of fills up a room.

KL: Matisse made several drawings of you as a child.

CD: Yes, because I was available. My parents left France for a few years, and my grandfather didn’t think it was a proper thing for a child four or five years old to be bounced around. Actually, [he and my grandmother] wanted to have me with them. So I was raised by my grandparents in Nice for about three or four years. So of course my grandfather and my grandmother had a special attachment to me, as I was attached to them. And then later on, I was more available because my mother and my grandfather kept a close relationship. They always collaborated. For example, my mother was the only one known to [authorize] Matisse’s signature for proofs, for example in etchings. She’s the one who controlled the proofs and the rights to her father’s saying, “This one is good, this one is done on bad paper.”

KL: What was your grandfather’s studio like when there were visitors?

CD: When people came to choose things, my mother would put whatever drawings she intended to show out on the floor. Professionals and other artists thought it was normal, but for laymen [it was surprising] to see my grandfather’s artworks on the floor. I remember my mother pushing the drawings with her toe.

Related Links:
Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore
Purchase the Catalogue
Look Closer at Matisse’s painting Large Reclining Nude
The Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore is organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Image Credit: Cover, exhibition catalogue.