Monday, March 22, 2021

Courage of the Collector --- Day 9/334

Walk: Presido Pickleball

Distance: 2.5 miles, 90 minutes pickle, Yoga

Henri Matisse, La Dance, 1910, oil on canvas, 8'6" x 12' 10"

Yesterday Ciwt referred to the "scary thresholds" collectors who endeavor to assemble an important art collection are often called on to cross.  Availability of a pivotal and essential work is one.  The collector has no idea when such an offering might be made or what their financial circumstances might be at that time.  They must act quickly, sometimes facing the prospect of selling a beloved and rare work to raise funds, as was the case with Jacques Doucet who needed to sell Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon to raise the purchase price of van Gogh's Irises.  

There's also the matter of authenticity.  One Texas oilman was aghast to learn that 41 of the 59 'grand master' paintings he had acquired were fakes, and his stituation is far from unique through history.

In some ways, particularly in more socially restrictive societies, the scariest threshold is across norms of public opinion. No one knew this better than THE premiere collector of early modern art, the Russian businessman, Sergei Schchukin.  

Schuchukin wasn't concerned about forgeries because he usually dealt directly with the artists as he did when he commissioned Henri Matisse to paint enormous panels for the main staircase entrance to his Moscow mansion. But, bold as he was, he did have to contend with the highly morally restrictive social norms of Russian society.  Accordingly, when he saw Matisse's first drawings of naked dancers, the Count responded "I cannot at this time place nudes in my staircase...(please) manage to show the same round danse but with the girls in dresses."  After several back and forths about how to avoid nudes, he finally wrote Matisse a letter saying "...your panel of La Danse is so noble that I have decided to fly in the face of bourgeois opinion and place a subject with 'nudes' over my staircase..."

But then a few months later Schuchukin travelled to Paris to see the panel in person.  Just before his arrival, Matisse had entered it in the Salon d"Automne and Paris was abuzz with the scandal it caused.  One art critic even suggested that Matisse was a victim of mental illness.  Stunned speechless when he saw the painting and then (understandably) destablized by reading the reviews, Schchukin canceled the commission.

The demoralizing effects on Matisse of this cancelation along with the scathing reviews threatened to derail the career of one of the most important of all modern artists.  Luckily, and bravely, Schchukin reconsidered during his two day trip back to Moscow and cabled Matisse to send Danse with all speed.
A few days later he wrote Matisse a letter which included "...I've thought things over and I'm ashamed of my weakness and lack of courage.  One should never flee the battlefield without putting a fight.  For that reason I have decided to hang your panels.  People may shout and laugh, but since I'm convinced that your path is the right one, perhaps time will be my ally and I shall claim victory in the end."

About that last, time has indeed been the collector and artist's ally: La Danse is commonly recognized as a key point in Matisse's career and in the development of all of modern painting.

Dimitry Meinikov, Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin (1854-1936), 1915

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