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Even the great Henri Matisse can make ugly art.

At least, that’s how Frances and Sidney Brody felt after their first glimpse at the artist’s attempt at a centerpiece for their modernist home, designed by A. Quincy Jones and William Haines. The two avid art collectors and philanthropists commissioned Matisse to create a ceramic mural for the patio of their custom-built museum-esque house in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, now a staple in California mid-century architecture.

Frances Brody, a founding benefactor of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, describes Matisse in her account of his creation of La Gerbe, as “brilliantly alert with most penetrating eyes.” However, apparently his eyes could not penetrate the patrons’ wishes. Without discussing in detail the Brodys’ intentions for their piece, the artist went ahead and created a ceramic mural in the style of his iconic cutouts featuring two brilliant blue columns framing a spray of leaves and foliage, featuring an abstracted line drawing of a face with what looks like a plume of feathers on top of his head, entitled Apollo. It seems as though Matisse was influenced both by cancan dancers and a trip to the barbershop. Frances Brody recounts her rejection of the piece, claiming that her and her husband “disliked it intensely” and that “beyond the unsuitability for the particular spot, [they] just didn’t like it.” Matisse, now in his 80s, redesigned the mural in accordance with his increasingly simplistic cutout style which he developed in his later work. The final piece, completed only a few short months before the artist’s death, finally found its place on the patio of the wealthy benefactors’ home. “Far from becoming tiresome,” Frances Brody claims, “its simplicity of design never fails to bring warmth, gaiety, color and beauty to an area observed by all who pass through any part of the house.” This account of the late artist’s initial failure to meet the needs of his clients led him to develop a decorative style that became emblematic of his later work. It took thousands of dollars and months of scrapped work for Matisse to learn the golden rule of KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

Following the donation of this iconic piece to LACMA, the house it was designed for was later inhabited by an even bigger icon. In 2014, our lesbian lord and savior, Ellen DeGeneres, bought the Brody home for $39.88 million, then sold it a few years later for $55 million. Because the only person worthy of purchasing a house that once held such a vast, impressive art collection is the one and only Ellen.



Comments (2)

Oliver Littleworth

I like this piece because of the good use of colour & the fact that it makes me think of good things like nature.


I like this piece because of the colors that are included, especially the blues. The shapes of the leaves are also really simple and cute.