She belonged to a circle located at the heart of the 20th-century avant-garde. Once upon a time there was the daughter of Pierre Matisse, the great dealer of contemporary art in the United States. Jackie Matisse-Monnier (1931-2021) was therefore also the granddaughter of Henri Matisse, the giant of 20th-century painting.
And when her mother Alexina Sattler, who was divorced, met Marcel Duchamp via the surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning, Jackie thus became the stepdaughter and great companion of the inventor of conceptual art. Lastly, she was also the goddaughter of the Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro.
Jackie, as she was familiarly called, was married to the banker Bernard Monnier with whom she went on to have four children. Her passion was for creating kites, some of which, with their abstract and colourful compositions gliding through the air, are due to be displayed this summer at the Bernar Venet foundation in the Var.
Moral rights of Marcel Duchamp
She also oversaw the moral rights to the oeuvre of Marcel Duchamp, which she inherited, and set up the Marcel Duchamp Association dedicated to promoting him. After her death and seemingly while negotiating a “dation” with the French state, her four children are putting part of the family collection up for sale.
“The market has a fascination for objects that encapsulate art history,” explains Jonathan Rendell, deputy chairman at Christie’s. “The family was at the centre of everything that was happening in art at the time.” All the objects presented on 13 April were simply kept at her house, located near Fontainebleau, in Villiers-Sous Grez. They have a total estimate of 25 million euros.
“We were so privileged without realizing it,” recognized Robert Monnier, Jackie’s eldest son.
Jonathan Rendell specifies that the sale has been arranged without a guarantee (1). What this implies is that the lots are too attractive not to allow the magic of the auctions get to work.
Jackie’s father, Pierre Matisse, lived in the United States but every summer he returned to France to visit his artists, as revealed in the excellent exhibition on Pierre Matisse in 2021 at the Matisse Museum in Nice (See here the report about the Pierre Matisse exhibition). Pierre had what we would call a good eye. Balthus said, “he sees like the son of a painter”.
Among the artists he promoted there was Miro, who he exhibited no less than 35 times. In 1935 Miro painted an extraordinary gouache depicting a strange figure in dialogue with a bird against a flamboyant background of oranges and greens. It is presented at the sale with an estimate of 800,000 euros.
According to Jonathan Rendell, all the estimates are fixed without taking provenance into account. Pierre Matisse also promoted Alberto Giacometti and the sale features a small bust of a man in bronze by the artist dating from 1950 and with an estimate of 3 million euros, the highest sum in the catalogue.
There was, it would seem, a certain lack of understanding between Henri and Pierre Matisse and the son only exhibited his father five times. “Matisse was with us all the time, mainly because there were two extraordinary pieces present in our daily lives, a portrait drawn of Jackie and ‘Oceanie’,” Robert Monnier continues. Three portraits of Jackie made by her grandfather in Indian ink or charcoal are estimated between 30,000 and 300,000 euros. Two monumental prints (3.6 metres long) from 1946 on the theme of Oceania, created in sets of 30 and featuring suspended white figures, are estimated at 1.2 million euros each.
One of the most fascinating ensembles in the collection is the painted version and another one drawn on the same subject “Nymphe et faune” by Matisse, composed of figures in rounded forms seen from above (estimate: 250,000 and 1.8 million).
Lastly, Jackie Matisse-Monnier had a close relationship with her stepfather Marcel Duchamp. “From the late 1950s they saw one another every summer when my mother and Marcel Duchamp returned from New York,” explains Antoine Monnier, another son of Jackie Matisse-Monnier, who today has been appointed by the family to run the Marcel Duchamp Association.
Nowadays the artist is at the centre of a rich current interest. The Association has recently collaborated with the Centre Pompidou and the Philadelphia Museum to launch the Duchamp Research Portal (https://www.duchamparchives.org/) composed of 18,000 documents and 50,000 images on Duchamp.
It also participated with the Hauser & Wirth gallery and the curator and artist Jean-Jacques Lebel (See here an other interview of Jean-Jacques Lebel about Marcel Duchamp) in the reedition of the first monograph on Marcel Duchamp by his friend Robert Lebel (and father of Jean-Jacques) in 1959. Marcel Duchamp and Robert Lebel worked on it for 15 years. The work is also dedicated to Jackie. “Most people don’t understand the work of this major artistic figure. This fundamental publication lifts the lid on the question,” explains Jean-Jacques Lebel, who knew Marcel Duchamp well (2).
One of Duchamp’s great feats was the invention of his Boite-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase) in 1938 described by Robert Lebel as “the development of a portable museum in which the majority of his striking works would feature in miniature reproductions”. He also comments: “It is characteristic that one year before the war, Duchamp had the foresight to pack his bags and reduce them to a volume that was far easier to carry.”
The sale contains two of these “portable museums” that Marcel Duchamp would reissue after the war. “By coincidence in the early 1960s my mother kept certain documents which were necessary to create new Boite-en-valise and Duchamp put her in charge of the production,” explains Antoine Monnier. Connoisseurs distinguish different dates of editions for this unique object. The record price, 2.6 million euros, was obtained for a “box” dating from 1944. In the sale a version issued in 65 copies in 1966, two years after Duchamp’s death, has an estimate of 120,000 euros. Another version issued after he had died, between 1968 and 1971, by Teeny Duchamp, has an estimate of 50,000 euros.
Robert Lebel reveals in his work that under the German Occupation, Duchamp, equipped with a free pass by posing as a cheese merchant, “over the course of several trips transported the Boites-en-Valises to Marseille, where he took them to the United States as his only asset.”
Contemporary art was crossing the Atlantic. It was the start of a new chapter in the history of art.
(1) A guarantee is an amount fixed before the sale which the auction house or a third party agrees, regardless of the bids in the room, to pay this specified amount.
(2) Marcel Duchamp. Text by Robert Lebel. Hauser & Wirth publishers 2021. 110 euros.
Support independent news on art.
Your contribution : Make a monthly commitment to support JBH Reports or a one off contribution as and when you feel like it. Choose the option that suits you best.
Need to cancel a recurring donation? Please go here.
The donation is considered to be a subscription for a fee set by the donor and for a duration also set by the donor.