Glass-fronted box contains cockatoo and watches on display.

365 Days of Art: November 3 – Joseph Cornell Writes a Polite Letter, Matisse Dies, 100 Trucks Full of Confiscated Artwork Head to Germany

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949
Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

November 3, 1938

Joseph Cornell writes a letter to an employee named Iris Barry at MoMA’s Film Library. He’s a very polite correspondent:

Dear Miss Barry,

Between the increasing activity of the Film Library and an injury I sustained on my vacation a few weeks ago, it hasn’t been very convenient for me to speak to you about the film of mine left at Deluxe last March. I believe that Jay Leyda said that you had viewed these items and had liked the primitive French Indian subject and one of the Pearl Whites. I am wondering if you could let me know (when you have a breathing spell) of your decision, if any, to keep two of these three subjects…”

Ruins of large stone buildings - missing walls, burn marks at windows, crumbling foundations seem ready to slide down hill.
Monte Cassino, destroyed by Allied bombs in February 1944

November 3, 1943

Nazi records with today’s date state that in the last three weeks, 100 trucks, fully loaded with artwork, have left the abbey of Monte Cassino outside of Rome. They are all headed for Rome and “points north” [i.e., Germany], and all of the cargo is intended to be birthday presents for Reichsmarschall Herman Goring.

Matisse and Picasso self-portraits, both 1916
Matisse and Picasso self-portraits, both 1916

November 3, 1954

Henri Matisse dies. He works up until the end, completing his last work, a design for a stained glass window, just a few days before his death.

His daughter Marguerite Duthuit gives an interview almost six years later about trying to break the news to his longtime friend and rival, Picasso:

When Matisse died, we informed him [Picasso] immediately. They were very friendly, intimate. You would have thought he’d come to the phone to tell us how this sad news affected him.

After a long wait, we were told, “M. Picassso is having lunch, he cannot be disturbed.”

We were expecting a telegram, a phone call. Nothing. Thinking no-one had given him the message, we called back. It was the same thing.

And when we tried to speak to him a third time, we were told: “M. Picasso has nothing to say about Matisse, since he is dead.”

Could he really have said that? Or could someone have replied unbeknownst to him, to spare him intense emotion?

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