In Search of Matisse
Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen / Henie Onstad Archive
This exhibition attempts to expound the consequences both historic and contemporary looting of artworks and cultural heritage have on the obliteration of cultural existence. In Search of Matisse also explores the relationship between acts of aggression and identity, art history, and the power and politics associated with the ownership of things.
The idea for the exhibition evolved from, and is a result of, a letter and a telephone call Henie Onstad received in June 2012. The letter and telephone conversation were the impetus for a research project investigating the ownership history of artworks and cultural objects at the art center, a research project that extended over more than three years and now culminates with In Search of Matisse.
The letter and phone conversation came from the heirs of the Jewish art collector Paul Rosenberg, via the organization Art Loss Register (ALR), and stated that the painting, Profil bleu devant la cheminée (in English, Blue Dress in a Yellow Armchair) from 1937 by the French painter Henri Matisse, had been confiscated by the Nazis from Rosenberg’s storage vault when France was invaded during World War II, and that the painting had been missing ever since.
Working together with the claimants, Henie Onstad spent two years scouring public and private archives in the US and France, piercing together the painting’s movements over time. Henie Onstad returned the painting to the Rosenberg family in 2014, roughly two years after the initial enquiry. Nearly 60 years after the work first became a part of Henie Onstad’s collection, it was once again put back into circulation
The Matisse matter led to a nearly three-year-long research project where Henie Onstad have examined the provenance of all 19 works in the art center’s collection that were created prior to 1945. The meticulous detective work has been done to insure that these artworks have changed hands in lawful and honest ways.
In Search of Matisse is the first research project in Norway that takes a look at the relationship between looting and the way the art market has functioned both during and after the World War II.
The exhibition widens the conventional view of provenance research to include consideration of an artwork’s social context—that is to say, a broader analysis of the social and societal frameworks the art has moved through, and what consequences today’s looting has for the obliteration of cultural existence.