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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

© 2010 Succesion H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
French, 1869 - 1954
Backs I–IV
1909–c. 1930

74 5/8 x 45 9/16 x 7 3/8 inches (each)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore N. Law in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Harry C. Wiess; Mr. and Mrs. Gus Wortham; the Cullen Foundation in memory of Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen; and The Brown Foundation, Inc., in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Brown

Arts of Europe

Henri Matisse—an artist devoted primarily to painting—approached sculpture as an arena for creative experimentation. Backs I–IV comprise Matisse's only sculptural project to assume the monumentality of his major canvases.

The four sculptures were completed over a span of about 20 years. After Back I, Matisse began each subsequent version with a plaster cast from the previous one, revising the composition with additions and subtractions. Though the figure, shown from the back, is executed in high relief, the spine becomes gradually straightened and simplified. These reliefs were not conceived as a cycle, yet seen in sequence they reveal how Matisse could maintain a brilliant dialogue within his own production and the passage of time. The four Backs stand as an intimate and powerful record of the artist's studio practice, demonstrating his move from expressive naturalism to a severe Neoclassicism.