Henri Matisse

Back II

c.1913–14, cast 1955–6

In Tate Modern

Henri Matisse 1869–1954
Original title
Nu de dos II
Object: 1892 × 1206 × 190 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Matisse Appeal Fund 1956

Display caption

The Backs were Matisse’s largest sculptures. Over twenty years he progressively refined the original pose, based on a woman leaning on a fence, until he achieved a massive simplicity. Matisse’s decision to show the back view of a woman on such a monumental scale was unorthodox. By concealing her face, he avoided the complexities of visual engagement between artist and model. This helped him to consider the nude as an arrangement of forms that he could simplify and stylise.

In the final sculpture, the modelling of flesh has given way to the massing of androgynous bulk and the gently curved spine has been replaced by an abstracted plait. Although Back I had been exhibited in 1913, the series remained almost unknown until 1949–50 when the plaster Backs I, III and IV appeared in exhibitions in Paris and Lausanne.

Back II was only rediscovered after Matisse’s death, while an even more naturalistic first version is now only known from a photograph. All were cast in bronze after his death.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Catalogue entry

Henri Matisse 1869-1954

T00114 Nu de Dos II (Back II) c.1913-14

Inscribed 'Henri Matisse' b.l. and 'HM 4/10' b.r.
Bronze relief, 74 1/2 x 47 3/4 x 7 1/4 (189 x 121 x 18.5)
Purchased from the artist's family (Grant-in-Aid) with the assistance of the Matisse Appeal Fund 1956
Prov: As for 'Back I' (T00081)
Exh: Matisse 1869-1954, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1968 (540, repr.)
Lit: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: his Art and his Public (New York 1951), pp.142, 218, 539, and Additions and Corrections; Albert Elsen, 'The Sculpture of Matisse, Part IV: The Backs and Monumental Decorative Sculpture' in Artforum, VII, December 1968, p.29, repr. p.28; Jack D. Flam, 'Matisse's Backs and the Development of his Painting' in Art Journal, XXX, Summer 1971, pp.354-5, 361, repr. p.354; Albert E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse (New York 1972), pp.182, 185, repr. pls. 248, 254

This relief was forgotten for many years, until the plaster came to light in a Nice warehouse in 1955, a few months after Matisse's death. On style it is clearly the second of the surviving works of this series, and was probably executed about 1913-14 because of its affinities with paintings such as 'Woman on a High Stool' made in the winter of 1913-14 and the portrait of Mlle Yvonne Landsberg painted early in 1914.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.495, reproduced p.495

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