From January 20, to February 27, 1915, the Montross Gallery held the Henri Matisse Exhibition organized by Walter Pach. The show featured seventy-four paintings, sculptures, drawings, etchings, and lithographs, more than half created in the previous year. (1)
The exhibition’s aim was to interest the American public and collectors in Matisse and foster a market for his work in New York. This aim is reflected in the article “Why Matisse?,” which Pach published in the Century Magazine in coordination with the exhibition opening. In this excerpt from the article, Pach conveys and imparts respect and enthusiasm for the artist’s work:
Notice how each line in his drawing moves according to the working of his thought, not from the accident of an appearance in the external world. So the volumes and masses of his composition are adjusted always under the control of a mind which is unceasingly in contact with nature. What differentiates the sensibility of Matisse from that of others is its intensity. Where the layman feels the beauty of color and design for a moment and then lets his attention turn to something else, where the mediocre artist gives up the struggle after a short time and contents himself (and his public) with the copy of an object, Matisse keeps up the search for a month, perhaps for a year, and will not let the work go from his studio until the particular expression he needed has been reached. (2)
Pach’s description underpins the artist’s process as serious, unique, and meditative, and his work as intensely powerful. The sparsely illustrated article most likely inspired the readers to see the works in person. At the exhibition, they would also be able to purchase the works on view.
To encourage the sale of Matisse’s work, Pach may well have followed his friend Michael Stein’s advice “not to put the prices too high.” (3) While we do not know the prices for the works, they must have been well-attuned to their market, as an unsigned article in American Art News from February 13, 1915, proclaimed that “Matisse Sells Well”; Montross sold more than eighty works. (4) The number of works exceeded the seventy-four originally listed in the exhibition catalog, as, according to the same article, “the supply of several of the prints being exhausted, Mr. Montross had sent to Paris for others.”
The success of the exhibition was both a great coup for the organizers and also for Matisse. That Matisse approved more work to be sent from his gallery in Paris to New York when New York had sold out, and so quickly, suggests a keen delight and desire to return New York’s warm reception.
1. “Matisse at Montross’.” American Art News. Vol. 13, no. 16 (1915): 2.
2. Walter Pach, “Why Matisse?” The Century Magazine. (1915): 635.
3. Michael Stein, “From Michael Stein, Agay, France.” 19 October 1914.” Letter 276977 of The Walter Pach Papers: Professional Correspondence. Washington, D.C.: The Archives of American Art. 8 September 2011. <http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/from-emph-render-bold-Michael-Stein-emph-Agay-France--276977>
4. “Matisse Sells Well.” American Art News. Vol. 13, no. 19 (1915): 9.