Major Matisse Ceramic added to LACMA’s collection

Today is the long-awaited final installation of Henri Matisse’s large-scale ceramic La Gerbe (The Sheaf) (1953), commissioned by Los Angeles patrons Sidney and Frances Brody from the artist in the early 1950s.  The Brodys’ extraordinary collection of modern art, including works by Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore, graced their elegant home designed by A. Quincy Jones in the early 1950s.  Intended to occupy a prime position in their new home, the Matisse ceramic became, as Frances Brody would describe it, “the heart of our home.”

La Gerbe installed in Brody residence. Photo courtesy the archives of Frances L. Brody, now at LACMA.

The journey to today has been a long one.  I remember discussing the possibility of this gift to LACMA in 1986 when she indicated that she would be willing to promise it to the museum in honor of our 25th anniversary.  At the time she shared with me the fascinating story of the commission, showed me correspondence about the acquisition, and regaled me with amazing details about meeting Matisse.

In 1952 the Brodys approached Matisse, who at the time was creating colorful paper cut-outs, with the idea of the commission. Matisse expressed interest and worked on several proposals even before knowing the exact size of the wall.  He showed the Brodys a full-scale paper cut-out when they visited him in Cimiez (Nice, France) in May of 1952. They rejected this first design (that cut-out is today in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; a ceramic version Apollo is in the Toledo Museum of Art)  but accepted a subsequent proposal.

Henri Matisse, Apollo, 1953, ceramic tile and plaster, courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art, gift of Edward Drummond Libbey

The Brodys also acquired the full-scale maquette of La Gerbe, which they subsequently donated to UCLA.  The final ceramic, created in fifteen sections, was shipped to L.A. shortly after the artist died in November 1954.

Sadly, in November 2009, Frances passed away at age 93.  As promised, she left the Matisse to LACMA in her will.  She was a remarkable figure in Los Angeles’ history, whose grace, style, erudition, and opinions were truly legendary.

Frances L. Brody

In January we began the adventure of deinstalling this 2,000-pound ceramic wall, which had remained in its original position for more than half a century.  It was, to say the least, a delicate and difficult procedure.  Thanks to the ingenuity of our team, we were able to literally detach the mural from the wall in one piece (it was bolted to the wall) and crane it out over the house and trees to an awaiting flatbed truck.  Watching the Matisse hovering in the air high above the trees was one of the most heart-stopping moments I have ever had as a curator.

La Gerbe in process of being deinstalled from Brody residence

La Gerbe in process of being deinstalled from Brody residence

Safely ensconced in a secure a-frame, the ceramic eventually made its way to the museum. After close examination by our conservation department, the decision was made to do a light surface cleaning and prepare the ceramic for permanent installation in the museum.  A prominent wall in the lobby of the Ahmanson Building was selected as the appropriate permanent location for this monumental Matisse.  The ceramic was carefully rigged, gently positioned on the wall, and attached to a steel structure; a wall was then built around the work.

La Gerbe during installation at LACMA

Wanting to share with the public a little of the background about this significant commission and subsequent acquisition, we have installed temporarily some of the original documents that came to us from Frances Brody’s archives, also given to LACMA.  These include correspondence with Pierre Matisse (the artist’s son and dealer in the United States), photographs of the work during fabrication, and, most remarkably, several of the original hand-painted color samples that Matisse cut and sent to the Brodys during the work’s preparation.

Case with archival materials from the archives of Frances L. Brody installed at LACMA

Frances Brody, cognizant of the commission’s significance, wrote a fascinating account of the commission, which I think best describes the transaction.  Taking advantage of new technology, we have recorded this account. Dial 888.788.7457 to hear this recording.

La Gerbe installed at LACMA

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator and Department Head, Modern Art

21 Responses to Major Matisse Ceramic added to LACMA’s collection

  1. Katie R. says:

    This post is amazing. It’s so exciting to hear about the entire process – especially hearing her say about the original proposal “and we just didn’t like it.”

  2. Gina L says:

    How exciting!

  3. Katherine Rinne says:

    The process of de-installing is really interesting but it really should have been re-installed in a garden.

  4. Donna says:

    It would have been nice if the Brodys gave more of their collection to LACMA. I wonder why they didn’t?

    Whatever the case, thank goodness for people like the Broads, Resnicks, Ahmansons, etc.

  5. JOHN D F says:

    THANKYOU FOR THE WONDERFUL HISTORY OF THE GENESIS OF THIS FANTASTIC PROJECT. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL CONCERNED AND HEART-FELT GRATITUDE TO FRANCES BRODY AND THE BRODY FAMILY.

  6. Donna says:

    Because it’s particularly relevant to a new Matisse at LACMA and the general category where such an artwork would be placed, my list above should have included the name “Lazarof.”

    So thank goodness for people like the Lazarofs!

  7. Donna says:

    I feel bad if my original post ended up sounding like a slight to Frances Brody. The gift of the Brody’s Matisse is wonderful!

    I’m just one of those people who has always loved the idea of becoming very wealthy, but NOT because of a desire to have a lavish lifestyle but because of the joy I’d get in funding things that would make the cultural/educational life of Los Angeles as good as possible.

    I visited the LA Zoo a few weeks ago and I observed certain things that could have been enhanced or added to. I’d have been quite happy to nonchalantly take out my checkbook and said “here’s $10 million to improve this exhibit!” Or “here’s another check for you to go out and obtain a panda bear!”

    Apply this same feeling I get when I drop by (or read about) LACMA, the Natural History Museum, MOCA, the Huntington, UCLA, USC, the Central Library, Griffith Park Observatory, the Music Center, the Colburn School, the Hammer, the Getty, Autry/Southwest, etc, etc, etc, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

  8. Jeff Becket says:

    Interesting blog and a stunning piece for LACMA. I saw it today as I was walking up the stairs, perfect location. Stephanie Barron is also responsible for one of the most beautiful galleries I have ever seen…the Modern Art Gallery. If you go to LACMA you must see it.

    Thank you Ms. Barron, you are a true visionary that LA desperately needs.

  9. Sandra Stillwater says:

    Where might I see this piece of art?

  10. lacma says:

    Sandra, the Matisse is installed inside the Modern Art galleries on level 2 of the Ahmanson Building – right at the top of the grand staircase in that building.

  11. Susan T says:

    It looked better in a home setting with the tree!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I miss the ficus that framed it.

  13. David L. says:

    Greetings:
    I have dialed the number given above and it appears to be a fax machine!!
    I would enjoy hearing the recorded account.

  14. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley says:

    Matisse – to the untutored, seemed to produce odd, child-like paper-cuttings. Ahhhhh, but learn the stories and the study that went into his work and he is revealed to be such a fine talent.

    I understand how some art-lovers believe this lovely work should have been placed in a garden or home-like setting; However, the dramatic spotlighting of the work INSIDE not only dramatically showcases it, but best preserves it for many future years of enjoyment. (Things don’t get STRONGER or SAFER just because they get OLDER.)

    The ‘recorded account of the commission and purchase’ alas, is now disconnected. Please consider reinstalling it. (I bet you won’t need a CRANE – Ha!) The gift is still so new to the museum, the voice of the former-owner would be a delightful enhancement to the overall presentation.

  15. Norma Tormey says:

    A letter by Francis Brody that described the visit to Matisse was on one of LACMA’s sites. Where can I find this? Also I would like to know the site that mentions seriographs that were authorized and signed by Matisse. Please help.

  16. Norma Tormey says:

    Thank you for this info!

    NT

    Sent from my iPad

  17. What a wonderful and inspiring story.
    Looking forward to seeing the piece in its new permanent position.

  18. claude Gonzalez says:

    Love the colors and the shapes …. reminds me of the peacefulness of the ocean..the beauty of nature… Thank you to the Brody family and to LACMA for allowing us and our children to admire this piece of art through the times.
    Merci monsieur Matisse pour ton amour de l’art ! J’aime votre art!
    Grand Maitre!

  19. tony foti says:

    i soo enjoyed your matisse it is in the perfect spot my children smiled when they saw it it reminded me of the matisse muse in nice the mediterranean spirit la and nice share something special tonifoti

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