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Matta (1911-2002)

Prince of Blood (Tragiptych)

Matta (1911-2002)
Prince of Blood (Tragiptych)
signed 'Matta' (on the reverse of each canvas); inscribed 'Amagansett' (on the reverse of the right canvas)
oil on canvas, triptych
left canvas: 30 x 14 in. (76.2 x 35.5 cm.);
centre canvas: 30 x 36 in. (76.2 x 91.3 cm.);
right canvas: 30 x 22 in. (76.2 x 55.8 cm.);
overall: 30 x 72½ in. (76.2 x 184 cm.)
Painted in 1943
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (no. St-1470).
Acquavella Modern Art, Reno, Nevada (no. 1607 L).
Acquired by the present owner circa 1989.
G. Ferrari, Entretiens Morphologiques, Notebook No. 1, 1936-1944, London, 1987 (illustrated p. 178).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Surrealism, August 1971 - February 1973; this exhibition also travelled to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Caracas, Venezuela; Lima, Peru; Santiago, Chile; Auckland, New Zealand, City of Auckland Art Gallery; Sydney, Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales; Melbourne, Australia, National Gallery of Australia and Mexico City, Mexico, Museo de Arte Moderno.
Cleveland, Museum of Art, The Spirit of Surrealism, October - November 1979, no. 80 (illustrated p. 133).
Waltham, Massachusetts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Matta: The First Decade, May - June 1982, no. 35 (illustrated p. 62).
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne Centre Georges Pompidou, Matta, October - December 1985, no. 38 (illustrated p. 116).
Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institute, Crosscurrents of Modernism: Four Latin American Pioneers, Diego Rivera, Joaquín Torres-García, Wifredo Lam, Matta, June - September 1992, no. 87 (illustrated p. 266).
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This work is registered at the Matta Archives, and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Mme Ferrari-Matta.

Marcel Duchamp said that Matta's first contribution to Surrealist painting, and the most important, was the discovery of regions of space until then unknown in the field of art.

In 1943, the presence of Marcel Duchamp's repaired Large Glass on exhibition for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York had a revolutionary impact on many avant-garde artists in America, none more so than Roberto Matta. Coinciding with the Chilean artist's own mystic, psychological, erotic and morphological interests, Duchamp's masterpiece prompted a radical new departure in Matta's work and the creation of an important series of paintings sometimes known as the 'Duchampian suite'.

Among the most ambitious and important works in this series are the two 1943 triptychs that were first exhibited at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in February 1944: La Vertu Noire, now in the Tate Gallery, London and Prince of Blood. These two triptychs, along with one other entitled The Redness of Lead, probably owe their grim and evocative titles to the supposed 'virtue' of killing an enemy in the war. Their chief subject however, is the interpenetration of the interior space of the mind and the vast unknown exterior space of the cosmos.

'If we admit' Matta asserted, 'that we are entering a new world in which there are laws that we do not understand' then 'in such a world it is the task of the poet and the artist to represent this new physics where we must now live and which is revolutionary' (Matta quoted in M. Sawin, Roberto Matta, ''). In a move that anticipates many of the concepts of contemporary physics, Matta was one of the first artists to recognise and seek to evoke the mystical nature of the interdependence of Man and Space. Declaring the world to be 'a nexus of vibrations,' reality to be 'made of oscillations, waves (and) beams' and human energy an indivisible 'system in expansion in the universe ', Matta sought through automatism and the unconscious, to give pictorial form to this new scientific concept.

Automatism for Matta was 'a method of reading live the actual function of thinking at the same speed as the matter we are thinking of, to read at the speed of events, to grasp unconscious material functioning in our memory with the tools at our disposal. ' For him it was itself a science that allowed the 'irrational and the rational' to 'run parallel' and 'send sparks into each other (to) light the common road' (Ibid). In Prince of Blood, three separate areas and spaces are connected and yet remain distinct through the three physically separate panels of the triptych format. Each panel describes a different space, whether interior or exterior is not made clear, though in the central panel, with its fusion of flowing lines describing the Einsteinian bending of space, its flying meteorites, worm holes, and blurred astral-like phenomena, it seems to define a cosmic space. The appearance in the two side panels of anthropomorphic shapes, along with its negative lines inscribed into the paint with either a razor blade or the wrong end of the brush, tend to convey a sense of a more visceral and interior space. This darker, more bloody and visceral aspect of the work is reiterated not just its title but also by the subtitle that Matta gave it when it was illustrated in the Surrealist magazine VVV in 1944. Here, it was called 'Tragiptyque'.