History of the Foundation

The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation was established in 1995 by Maria-Gaetana von Spreti Matisse, wife of the late art dealer and collector, Pierre Matisse. Following her death in 2001, Tana—as she was known to her friends—left the bulk of her estate to the Foundation. As a result, the most significant assets of the Foundation are the works from Tana and Pierre Matisse’s remarkable collection of art.

Tana Spreti Matisse

Maria Gaetana von Spreti was born in Vienna on January 11, 1943. Her father, Count Karl von Spreti, was a founding member of the German Christian Democratic party and was elected to the Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) in 1949 and 1953.

In 1956, Count von Spreti began a distinguished ambassadorial career, residing with his family in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Cuba, Jordan and Guatemala, among other countries. As a result, Tana developed a sophisticated and cosmopolitan outlook.  Her experiences in diverse cultural and social milieus fostered her profound interest in philanthropy.

Moving to London in 1967 and then to New York several years later, Tana worked for several prominent art galleries in both cities. In 1972, she took a position with the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Two years later, Tana and Pierre Matisse married, remaining together for 17 years.  As a passionate connoisseur, during this time, Tana befriended such leading artists as Miro, Chagall, Balthus and, among the younger generation, Riopelle and Zao Wou-ki.

Tana Matisse died on April 7, 2001. It was Tana’s steadfast support for the arts that shaped an ongoing vision for the Foundation’s programs, which continue to support the appreciation of visual and performing arts and arts education.

Pierre Matisse

Born on June 13, 1900, in Bohain-en-Vermandois, a small village in the north of France, Pierre Matisse was the youngest child of the painter Henri Matisse, one of modern art’s preeminent figures.

Growing up at the center of Parisian art world, Pierre learned first-hand about creativity and what was essential for it to flourish.  He arrived in New York in 1925 and opened his own gallery in the Fuller Building in 1931, shortly after the Museum of Modern Art opened. Matisse welcomed such artists as Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Balthus, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet and Yves Tanguy.  Over decades Pierre expanded his focus to represent painters from Latin America, the United States, Canada, and a still-younger generation of artists from France and Spain.  His critically received exhibitions promoted their work to private collectors and museums alike.

Pierre served as president of the Art Dealers Association of America from 1964 to 1966. For his contributions as an unofficial ambassador for French culture he was made a chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters and later an officer of the Legion of Honor by the French Government.  In 1987 he was honored by the city of Venice on the occasion of a major Matisse exhibition at the Museo Correr.

Pierre maintained a close relationship with his father throughout the years. Their extensive correspondence is housed in The Morgan Library & Museum together with the archives of the Pierre Matisse Gallery.  Nearly 30 years of letters between father and son, as well as between Pierre and his artists, can be read in John Russell’s book, Matisse, Father & Son.  Pierre Matisse died on August 10, 1989.