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On view  |  Sculpture Garden, Exterior, Floor 1

Henri Matisse. The Back (II). Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1911 (?) - early March or April 1913

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Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954)

The Back (II)

Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1911 (?) - early March or April 1913
6' 2 1/4" x 47 5/8" x 6" (188.5 x 121 x 15.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 - 1917

, July 18 - October 11, 2010

Director, Glenn Lowry: Back (II), is the second of four large bronze bas-reliefs of a woman's back that Matisse made over a span of twenty years. Matisse made the first version, Back (I), in clay. It was an enormous slab that was kept damp so he could continue to work on it. But in 1909, Matisse had to relocate his studio. Concerned that the piece might not survive the move, he had it cast in plaster

Curator, Stephanie D’Alessandro: When he went to make this sculpture, and continued to make the subsequent states of Back that we'll see in the show, he always started with a cast of the previous work. So he kept one as a record of the work he had made, of its state, and then took that second cast to rework.

Curator, John Elderfield: And once he'd moved from clay to plaster, the sculpture changes, as it has to change according to the materials. The articulation of the figure by means of this very strong directional cutting and incising, and particularly in the lines that spread up from behind the buttocks, around the waist, and then are answered by strong lines around the legs, shows that he's beginning a process of almost cutting up the figure as he's working, so that one is seeing the parts as well as the whole.

Glenn Lowry: In making Back (II), Matisse reshaped the cast of Back (I) with additional plaster.

Conservator, Lynda Zycherman: Matisse added large amounts of plaster to areas of the upper torso in particular. For example, behind the right shoulder blade he added between two and four inches of plaster to the previous relief. At the same time he trimmed down the buttocks by two or four inches, and flattened them somewhat. He added much more plaster over the left elbow. He removed the breast from its location in Back I and raised it and made a whole new breast. He moved the left leg several inches to the left, covering up part of the signature, and he thickened the right leg and straightened it out. He softened the bend in the knee so that it's more of a curve.

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