“La révolte des contraires…to me is a very important picture, because there’s a very important concept behind it. Life is a very extraordinary thing—constantly changing and subject to accidents…History is a continuum, a space.”
Offered at Christie’s New York, May 22, 2012
Estimated at $1.8 — 2.5 million
Sold for $5,010,500
In the New York art world of the 1940s, Roberto Matta was an ambassador of Surrealism and a progenitor of Abstract Expressionism. The Chilean-born painter had left his native country for Paris in 1935, got a job working for Le Corbusier but soon found more sympathetic company in the circle of André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Yves Tanguy and the other Surrealists. In 1939, with France under imminent Nazi threat, Matta fled to the U.S., where he befriended and taught artists both native and émigré, such as Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky.
The work Matta did in New York during the war years—including La révolte des contraires—was “seminal” for his oeuvre, according to Virgilio Garza, Christie’s head of Latin American art in New York. “This painting is a combination of things that Matta had been working on,” he says. At the time, the artist was practicing the technique of automatism, studying higher mathematics, and delving into the writings of the 19th-century French occultist Eliphas Lévi on magic, the tarot, astrology and other recondite matters. Matta also read the Russian mystical philosopher P.D. Ouspensky, who discusses dimensions beyond the three we can see.
Considering this heady intake of influences, it’s not surprising that the canvas teleports the viewer into an inner space filled with vortices of energy and glowing with an eerie astral light. And while the painting—which combines figurative and abstract elements—is clearly cosmic and metaphysical, the artist also intended to express something about the momentous events that were taking place around the world in 1944. Matta told an interviewer later on, “La révolte des contraires…to me is a very important picture, because there’s a very important concept behind it. Life is a very extraordinary thing—constantly changing and subject to accidents…History is a continuum, a space.”
“It is a magnificent painting,” says Garza, “and we’re so glad the market responded accordingly. It is one of the best Mattas that has ever been offered, in my opinion. It was owned privately by somebody we know; we’d been waiting for years and found the perfect moment.” The work was completely fresh to the auction market, and according to Garza is in “flawless condition.” The previous record for Matta was $2.6 million, achieved at Sotheby’s in 1999 for his Disasters of Mysticism, which is now in the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires.