In Focus

Ties that Bind: Henri Matisse's Ivy in Flower

The "tendrils" of Henri Matisse's Ivy in Flower bind the Dallas Museum of Art to its rich legacy with the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts. The enormous cutout collage, one of the glories of the DMCA's collections, came into the Foundation for the Arts in 1963 when the DMCA merged with the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Ivy in Flower quickly became one of

everyone's favorite works.

This very large and very late Matisse (made the year before the artist died) consists of pieces of paper that were painted with gouache by Matisse's studio assistants, cut and shaped by the master, and then pasted onto a support at his direction. The composition, nine feet square, has virtually no beginning and no end, no right or wrong side up, no "Renaissance

space" or perspective, and no narrative. The ebullient confetti-burst of flat pattern and bright color is contained within a grid of brown paper tape and gives no clue that it was created as a maquette for part of a funerary monument. Nor could we ever imagine from looking at this happy work that it was, basically, a "reject."

Matisse's patron for this 1952-1953 commission was Mary Lasker, the third wife and, by then, the widow of advertising pioneer Albert Lasker. Born in 1880, Albert Lasker grew up in Galveston, Texas, the son of prominent Galvestonian Morris Lasker. The bright young Albert published his own newspaper at the age of twelve. He later worked as a reporter for the

Galveston News while attending Ball High School and even had a brief stint with the Dallas Morning News. When Albert was eighteen, his father got him a job writing copy for the Chicago advertising agency Lord and Thomas. Albert eventually revolutionized the advertising industry and made millions of dollars in that business. In 1940, retired and living in New York, Lasker married Mary Woodard Reinhardt, a Wisconsin girl who had gone to Radcliffe and majored in art history. Although it was Mary who first interested Albert in collecting art, it was he who built their art collection over a twelve-year period prior to his death in May 1952.

In early 1952, Stanley Marcus, as Chairman of the Acquisitions Committee of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, persuaded his friend Albert Lasker to lend a Matisse painting to the DMFA exhibition Some Businessmen __Collect Contemporary Art. After Albert's death, Mary Lasker lent her husband's other eight Matisse paintings, plus sixty-one works by other artists, to the 1953 exhibition of paintings from the Lasker Collection, held at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts as part of the Museum's 50th birthday celebration.

The Laskers' friend Alfred Frankfurter, editor of Art News at the time of Albert's death, suggested that Matisse design the stained glass for the large square window of Mr. Lasker's mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Matisse had designed a number of windows (including one for the Chapelle du Rosaire in the south of France, and one for Time Life Corporation), and Henri Matisse had known Albert Lasker personally.

The Lasker window project was one of the last of Matisse's life. He put enormous effort into this collage-maquette and was greatly pleased with the result. Letters in the Pierre Matisse archive at the Morgan Library in New York show that the artist and his son Pierre, who negotiated the commission, were hugely disappointed by its rejection. Mary Lasker was obliged to pay for the collage-maquette whether she liked the design or not. She loaned it to the Art Institute of Chicago, until, in late 1957, her close friend Betty Marcus contacted her about donating a work of art to the new Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, and Mrs. Lasker agreed to give the collage maquette Ivy in Flower. The collage went on loan to the Dallas Public Library until the new DMCA space on Cedar Springs opened in 1959.

After Henri Matisse's death, a large retrospective of his work was held in Paris in 1956 at the National Museum of Modern Art. For that occasion, the Ivy in Flower window design was fabricated in glass by French artisan Paul Bony. In 1962 Matisse's daughter, Marguerite Duthuit, sold the glass version of Ivy in Flower to the Modern Art Museum (Moderne Kunst

Stiflung Ludwig) in Vienna, where it remains today.

Excerpt from

  • Schatzie Lee, “Ties that Bind: Henri Matisse's Ivy in Flower,” in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years , ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 21.

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