A 1912 Matisse and six other works of art -- all recently acquired, none previously displayed here -- have been placed on view at the National Gallery of Art.
The 46-inch-high Matisse, titled, "Palm Leaf, Tangier," is a thinly painted view of a garden in Morocco. The picture was made quickly. Matisse said it was painted in a "burst of spontaneous creation -- like a flame..."
Its price was not disclosed, but paintings by the master nowadays wear price tags in the million-dollar range.
Once owned by Alfred H. Barr Jr., the first director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, the painting was acquired through the Gallery's Chester Dale Fund.
Though hot a charming picture, it appears, in retrospect, historically important. In it Matisse seems both traditionalist and prophet. Here -- as in his later cut-outs, which manage to suggest both 1960s hard-edge paintings and timeless Mediterranean myth -- Matisse both predicts the future and recalls the past.
While its active, hasty brushwork hints at 1950s New York painting, the lushness of its subject and its North African locale evoke the 19th-century exoticism of Barye and Delacroix. It is, despite its grays and greens and the terracotta orange of its garden path, an oddly pale picture. The viewer sees its colors as if squinting through the glare of harsh Moroccan sun.
Of the other acquisitions, the rarest and most entertaining is Hans Burgkmair's "The Fight in the Forest," a German drawing dated 1500-1505. Perhaps the most seductive is "Lady With a Lute," which American Thomas Wilmer Dewing painted in 1886.
Burgkmair (1473-1531) was a student of Martin Schongaguer and a contemporary of Albrecht Durer. "The Fight in the Forest" is the first important drawing by the artist to enter an American collection.
It illustrates an old and strange chivalric romance. A knight swings his broad sword at a hairy, naked wildman who is armed with a tree.
That fierce and bearded fellow is a kind of medieval Tarzan. In some versions of the story he was, as a baby, kidnapped by a bear; in others, much like Mowgli, he was raised by wolves. Though he will not win the fight, he is not a sore loser. He becomes the knight's companion. Later, despite all appearnces to the contrary, the two men will discover they are twins.
Another early 16th-century German work of art -- "The Large Landscape With a Watermill" by Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538) -- also has been purchased for the Gallery's collection. This etching, dated circa 1520, is of great importance because Altdorfer was the first European artist to make public pictures whose subject is pure landscape.
The Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund paid for both these works.
The little Dewing painting is both genteel and sexy. The "Lady With a Lute" sits in emerald-green light. Dewing, as did his pre-Raphaelite predecessors, liked to conjure in his pictures a mood of medieval purity, but here that mood is altered by the way the woman's swelling bosom echoes the roundness of her lute. The Dewing, now displayed in Gallery 69, is a gift of Dr. and Mrs. Walter Timme.
Two other 19th-century American paintings, both recently acquired, have been placed on view in Gallery 65.
"The Brown Family" by Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) shows James Borwn, the merchant banker, his grandson and his wife, at home in the parlor of Brown's New York house Painted in 1869, it was bought with funds given by the late Mr. and Mrs. David E. Finley. He was the National Gallery's first director.
"The Bashful Cousin" (he is, despite his bashfulness, being urged to change his mind and to stay to tea) was painted in 1842 by Francis William Edmonds (1806-1863). The picture is gift of Frederick Sturges Jr.
Two 20th-century works of art -- a Francis Bacon painting and a bronze by Kathe Kollwitz -- also have been given to the Gallery.
The 5-foot-high Bacon is called "Study for a Running Dog." A blurred and ghostly dog trots along the gutter of a street. Painted in the 1950s, the Bacon is a gift of Ruth Fisher Rhetts and family in memory of Charles Edward Rhetts.
The Kollwitz, a wall-hung bronze, is called "In God's Hands." It seems to show the hands of a father who is hugging a child to his chest, but the child has an adult's face and the father's hands seem godlike. Made in 1935-1936, the Kollwitz, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hans W. Weigert in memory of Lili B. Weigert, is the first sculpture by the German artist to enter the Gallery's collection.