The rug is titled “Mimosa,” and it is one of a limited edition of 500 commissioned in 1951 and manufactured by the Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Company.
The rug is very beautiful. It’s a machine-woven wool rug, in pristine condition. One art review I found said, “The piece is a textile art work in which the resources of modern industry enhance the visual statement of an exceptional artist.” A wonderful little booklet came with the rug. It was written by Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., who in 1951 was a renowned art historian associated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One sentence in it reads: “At the time of its creation, Matisse said of the rug, 'I want to recapture the freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth; when all the world is new.'”
As I thought about writing this blog post, I kept asking myself, Why did Henri Matisse, the celebrated master of modern art, approach an American rug company in the last years of his life and offer to design a rug for them?
I haven’t been able to find anything definitive, but I do know this: Matisse was descended from a long line of fabric weavers, going back several generations. I also found that, throughout his career, Matisse turned his attention to producing objects of beauty for use and appreciation outside the confines of the fine art world. He designed book illustrations, architectural decorations, and tapestries, so why not rugs?
I also found that, from 1944 to the end of his life, Matisse produced “decoupes” – collage-type works made of shapes cut from colored paper and pasted onto fields of color or white. Looking at them, you can see that these large-scale, vibrant, decoupage cut-outs inspired Matisse’s Mimosa rug. Many consider them to be his best work, including Matisse himself.
I hope you will enjoy this article about the rug that ran in the Dalton, GA paper on March 28, 2009 titled Famous French artist’s work now hangs at Dalton’s CRI. And, I really hope you will take a minute to read Mr. Robert Saunders' obituary. I have had several conversations with one of Mr. Saunders daughters, and the story of his life and career is as interesting as the story behind the rug. He sounds like someone who lived his life with a “freshness of vision which is characteristic of extreme youth; when all the world is new.”
So, sometimes Life imitates Art, and often, Art imitates Life right back. In a way, CRI got two valuable gifts: a fine rug, and a lovely story about a nice man who appreciated beauty, worked hard, and whose family loved and miss him.