This portrait painting, which measures two-and-a-half feet tall and under two feet wide, features the face of a woman framed by a high silver collar and a painted gold border. The woman looks straight at us with almond-sharped eyes, outlined in thick black paint. Her sharp chin and brown lips are similarly outlined, and thick black lines comprise her arching eyebrows and run down the length of her pointy nose. Her hair is round and coifed, extending beyond the painted gold border, and her skin has been rendered with distinct patches of tan, caramel, and grey-brown paint. The stiff stylized collar resembles a large V that begins on her chest beyond the lower border and extends behind her head to the top of the portrait. The golden edge of the canvas highlights hints of gold in the high collar and the woman’s skin.
Henri Matisse
Sarah Stein , 1916

Of the members of the intellectually stalwart Stein family — Gertrude, her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Sarah — it was Sarah whose bond with Matisse transcended that of patron/artist and reached a level of spiritual connection. “She knows my paintings better than I do,” Matisse is purported to have said.

In the sole instance of double portraiture in his career, Matisse executed bust-length paintings of Sarah and Michael Stein. Though perhaps commissions, the portraits were more likely made in homage to the artist’s most passionate American supporters. The two works of art are of comparable size and share a somber palette, but the portrait of Sarah is the more complex of the two.

When Sarah Stein began to slowly disperse her art collection in the years before her death in 1953, Elise Stern Haas purchased the portrait of Sarah and convinced a Chicago collector, Nathan Cummings, to acquire the portrait of Michael, with the understanding that both would eventually become part of SFMOMA’s collection. Mrs. Haas wanted the portraits to remain as a pair in San Francisco, in honor of her close friends and their role in bringing the work of Matisse to the Bay Area.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Sarah Stein
Artist name
Henri Matisse
Date created
1916
Classification
painting
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
28 1/2 in. x 22 1/4 in. (72.39 cm x 56.52 cm)
Date Acquired
1954
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sarah and Michael Stein Memorial Collection, gift of Elise S. Haas
Copyright
© Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/54.1117
Artwork Status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture, 1900 to Now.

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