I happened on this photo and found the scene—the composition, dappled light, low-slung modern furniture, lush materials and, of course, the Matisse--just incredibly beautiful.
I had to know more!
The Brody House, in the Holmby Hills section of West Los Angeles, was commissioned by philanthropist art lovers Sidney and Frances Brody in 1949. It was designed by architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer Billy Haines.
The house is 11,500 square feet on about 2.3 acres, with nine bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms, a pool, a tennis court and a guest house. The Playboy Mansion is next door.
The Brodys moved in in 1951.
The following year, to fill a large white wall on this open-to-the-sky patio, the couple commissioned a 12 x 11-foot ceramic-tile Matisse mural called La Gerbe (The Sheaf).
Matisse worked on several different concepts before even knowing the exact dimensions of the wall and when the couple visited him at home in Cimiez (Nice), they actually hated the design he proposed. Without wanting to insult him, they tried to persuade him to give it another shot but Matisse stood firm. Finally, his daughter and his assistant prevailed and he agreed to re-do the design.
You can read a wonderful detail-rich account of the whole process--how the piece was commissioned, created, transported and installed--written by Mrs. Brody here.
Ok now fast forward. Sidney Brody died in 1983. After Frances followed in 2009, at age 93, the house was put on the market, listed at $24.9 million. It sold seven months later, for just under $15 million, to "a local investor." Proceeds from the sale of the home benefited The Huntington, where Frances was a board member for 20 years.
Meanwhile the Brody’s famous art collection, which included works by Matisse, Giacometti, Moore, Braque, Degas and Vuillard, went to Christie's in New York, where it brought in almost $226 million at auction in May, 2010. Christies' Erin McAndrew tells me that makes it the most valuable single-owner collection ever offered at the prestigious New York auction house. Christies' chairman called the Brody Collection “one of the greatest private collections to come to market.”
(The most notable work of the collection, by the way, was a 1932 Picasso painting of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, which had not been seen in public since 1961. Titled Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, it sold for $106.5 million, which set a new world record for the most-expensive artwork ever sold at auction. The Brodys bought the painting in 1950, for $17,000, from the art dealer Paul Rosenberg.)
The Brodys' beloved Matisse mural, however, was bequeathed by the couple to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where it’s now on permanent display. The LA Times reported that "the 1-ton work was hoisted by crane from the atrium it had occupied for more than 50 years, lifted over trees, and transported intact to the museum."
While it makes me a bit sad to think this graceful tableau--this beautifully composed, casually elegant room--now exists only in photos, it’s fun to wonder what the new owners have done with the space. And of course it’s wonderful to know that the Matisse will go on to delight multitudes for years to come, thanks to that day, almost 60 years ago, that a young Los Angeles couple with vision and taste met the monumental talent of a modern art master, nearing the end of his life on the Cote d’Azur.
By all reports, the Brodys couldn’t have loved their Matisse more. In her notes, which appear on the LACMA website here, Frances Brody writes: "The ceramic has been up since early August, 1955...Far from becoming tiresome, 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 is truly the heart of our home."