Henri Matisse

Back IV

1930, cast 1955–6

In Tate Modern

Henri Matisse 1869–1954
Original title
Nu de dos IV
Object: 1892 × 1130 × 159 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Knapping Fund 1955

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sculpture, the modelling of flesh has given way to the massing of androgynous bulk and the gently curved spine has been replaced by an abstracted plait.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

T00082 Nu de Dos IV (Back IV) 1930

Inscribed 'HM | 4/10' b.r.
Bronze relief, 74 x 44 5/8 x 6 (188 x 113.5 x 15.3)
Purchased from the artist's family (Grant-in-Aid and Knapping Fund) 1955
Prov: As for 'Back I' (T00081)
Exh: Matisse 1869-1954, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1968 (142, repr.)
Lit: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: his Art and his Public (New York 1951), pp.142, 218, 545, and Additions and Corrections, plaster repr. p.459; Albert Elsen, 'The Sculpture of Matisse, Part IV: The Backs and Monumental Decorative Sculpture' in Artforum, VII, December 1968, pp.30-1, repr. p.31; Jack D. Flam, 'Matisse's Backs and the Development of his Painting' in Art Journal, XXX, Summer 1971, pp.357-61, repr. p.358; Albert E. Elsen, The Sculpture of Henri Matisse (New York 1972), pp.155, 192-7, repr. pls.234, 252, 256

Like T00160, this remained unpublished and virtually unknown until the retrospective exhibitions of 1949 and 1950. In the catalogue of the exhibition at the Maison de la Pensée Française in 1950 it was entitled 'Nu de Dos, 3e état' (Back, 3rd state) and bore the date 1929. Matisse subsequently confirmed that it was made just before his trip to Tahiti in the spring of 1930.

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.499-500, reproduced p.499


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