Henri Matisse

Back III

c.1916–17, cast 1955–6

In Tate Modern

Henri Matisse 1869–1954
Original title
Nu de dos III
Object: 1880 × 1130 × 171 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Matisse Appeal Fund 1957

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sculpture, the modelling of flesh has given way to the massing of androgynous bulk and the gently curved spine has been replaced by an abstracted plait.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

T00160 Nu de Dos III (Back III) c.1916-17

Inscribed 'Henri Matisse' (part of the surname illegible) b.l. and 'HM | 4/10' b.r.
Bronze relief, 74 x 45 x 5 1/4 (188 x 114.5 x 13.5)
Purchased from the artist's family (Grant-in-Aid) with the assistance of the Matisse Appeal Fund 1957
Prov: As for 'Back I' (T00081)
Exh: Matisse 1869-1954, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1968 (141, repr.)
Lit: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: his Art and his Public (New York 1951), pp.142, 218, 545, and Additions and Corrections, repr. p.458; Albert Elsen, 'The Sculpture of Matisse, Part IV: The Backs and Monumental Decorative Sculpture' in Artforum, VII, December 1968, pp.29-30, repr. p.30; Jack D. Flam, 'Matisse's Backs and the Development of his Painting' in Art Journal, XXX, Summer 1971, pp.355-7, 361, repr. p.355; Albert E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse (New York 1972), pp.138, 188-92, repr. pls. 250, 255

Like T00082, this work remained unexhibited and unpublished and almost unknown until it was shown in Matisse's retrospective exhibitions in Lucerne and Paris in 1949 and 1950; it was then entitled 'Nu de Dos, 2e état' (Back, 2nd State), a title which, like that of T00082, subsequently had to be modified when T00114 came to light. The catalogue of the exhibition at the Maison de la Pensée Française gave its date as 1929, but the artist later told Alfred H. Barr, Jr., that it was probably made before the war of 1914. It has been suggested by Albert Elsen and others that it may date from roughly the same time as the final state of 'Bathers by a River' in the Art Institute of Chicago, about 1916-17. The left-hand bather in this picture is treated in a particularly similar way.

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, pp.496, reproduced p.496

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