Roberto Matta (1911-2002)
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Roberto Matta (1911-2002)


Roberto Matta (1911-2002)
signed, dated and inscribed '"Eupure" Fev. 1944. Matta' (on the stretcher bar); signed and dated again 'Matta 44' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
50 x 38 in. (127.2 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted in February 1944
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (no. 1743).
Acquavella Gallery, New York (no. 383).
Private collection; sale, Christie's, New York, 18 November 2009, lot 28.
Private collection, Midwest, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Yokohama, Museum of Art, Masson et Matta: Les deux univers, April - June 1994, no. 9 (illustrated p. 42).
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. These lots have been imported from outside the EU or, if the UK has withdrawn from the EU without an agreed transition deal, from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.


The Matta Archives have confirmed the authenticity of this work.

‘If we admit that we are entering a new world in which there are laws that we do not understand,’ Matta once reasoned, ‘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 Roberto Matta: Paintings and Drawings, 1937-1959, exh. cat., Los Angeles, 1997, n.p.). The experience of the Second World War was profoundly unsettling for Matta, and as a result, he began to integrate imagery with a deeply existential and cataclysmic feeling to the psychic hermeticism of his earlier work. The artist lived out the war years in New York, serving as a chief conduit between the European Surrealists in exile and the emerging American Abstract Expressionists, who found a powerful imperative in the visionary reach and apocalyptic spectres of his landscapes from the early to mid-1940s. Eupure belongs to a series of paintings that Matta worked on over the first half of the decade called Psychological morphologies (later, Inscapes) that project his internalisation of the collective anxiety and psychological shock of the atomic age, almost uncannily prefigured in the vaporous light and fragmented planes of colours that swirl in its infinite, perspectival space.

Matta's paintings spanning the period from roughly 1943 to 1945 resonate on a cosmic scale, conjuring a new iconography of world-consciousness in which strange, astral bodies drift fatefully through agitated and often fantastic spaces. His works from these years, as Elizabeth A. T. Smith and Colette Dartnall have noted, incorporate ‘a more muted luminosity and a pronounced, clearly architectural indication of structure’, a galaxy of shapes that include ‘both geometric patterns and soft-edged forms, evoking the confines of architecture and the womb as well as the organic and vast nature of the universe’ (E. A. T. Smith & C. Dartnall, ‘”Crushed Jewels, Air, Even Laughter”: Matta in the 1940s’, in Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940s, exh. cat., Chicago, 2001, pp. 22-23).

Eupure bears a striking familial resemblance to the monumental Le Vertige d'Eros, 1944 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), one of the defining images of Matta's oeuvre and for which it may have served as a model, as its title suggests. With Le Vertige d'Eros, the more intimately-scaled Eupure counts among what Smith and Dartnall consider ‘the first works in which Matta's focus on floating planes and planet-like shapes becomes central and in which he abandons the horizon line for deep perspective, underscoring a sense of disequilibrium’. In the present work, the dynamic, torqueing space is held in a liminal state of suspension, its serial striations and sinuous lines rotating around a genital egg shape that hovers mysteriously at its centre. ‘The patterns created by the concentric lines suggest labyrinths, which in turn connote freedom and captivity,’ according to Smith and Dartnall. ‘Matta often used such lines in his work to represent the passage of time and the bonds of connection between space, time, and beings’ (E. A. T. Smith & C. Dartnall, ibid., 2001, pp. 22-23).

The cosmic oneness of Matta's universe is sensitively rendered in the spinning, prospecting space of Eupure, a moving meditation on the unravelling condition of the contemporary world filtered through the surreal abstractions and deepest recesses of the artist's psyche. The lambent transparencies of its surface impart an eerie glow to the floating planes of colour, cast in sombre tones of taupe and seal brown; the spindly lines that crisscross the surface, radiating from one space to another, suggest the recessive depths of this universe and its elemental interconnectedness. A metaphor of perpetual evolution, of the shape-shifting forces that create and defy equilibrium, Eupure is ultimately a distillation of Matta's universalism, vested in the anguish of his own experience and expressed within the most intimate space of his painting. ‘Rather than being a cosmonaut,’ the artist once declared, ‘I consider myself to be a beingonaut’, the ultimate traveller in the inner space of human consciousness (Matta, quoted in C. Cernuschi, ‘Mindscapes and Mind Games: Visualising Thought in the Work of Matta and his Abstract Expressionist Contemporaries’, in Matta: Making the Invisible Visible, exh. cat., Boston, 2004, p. 61).

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