Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (II), 1952
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs
Henri Matisse is a giant of modern art. This landmark show explores the final chapter in his career in which he began “carving into colour” and his series of spectacular cut–outs was born. The exhibition represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see so many of the artist’s works in one place and discover Matisse’s final artistic triumph. From snowflowers to dancers, circus scenes and a famous snail, the exhibition showcases a dazzling array of 120 works made between 1936 and 1954. Bold, exuberant and often large in scale, the cut-outs have an engaging simplicity coupled with incredible creative sophistication.
Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and, following surgery, he started using a wheelchair. Before undergoing a risky operation in Lyon, he wrote an anxious letter to his son, Pierre, insisting, “I love my family, truly, dearly and profoundly.” He left another letter, to be delivered in the event of his death, making peace with Amélie. However, Matisse’s extraordinary creativity was not be dampened for long. “Une seconde vie”, a second life, was what he called the last fourteen years of his life. Following an operation he found renewed and unexpected energies and the beautiful Russian-born assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, to keep him company. Vast in scale (though not always in size), lush and rigorous in color, his cutouts are among the most admired and influential works of Matisse’s entire career. They belong with the grandest affirmations of the élan vital in Western art.
With the aid of Lydia Delectorskaya and assistants he set about creating cut paper collages, often on an enormous scale, called gouaches découpés. By maneuvering scissors through prepared sheets of paper, he inaugurated a new phase of his career. Matisse was hardly new to cutting. It was already present to him as a descendent of generations of weavers, who was raised among weavers in Bohain-en-Vermandois, which in the 1880‘s and 90‘s was a center of production of fancy silks for the Parisian fashion houses. Like virtually all his northern compatriots, he had an inborn appreciation of their texture and design. He knew how to use pins and paper patterns, and he was supremely confident with scissors.
Henri Matisse, The Sheaf, 1953
The exhibition marks an historic moment, when treasures from around the world can be seen together. Tate’s The Snail 1953 is shown alongside its sister work Memory of Oceania 1953 and Large Composition with Masks 1953 at 10 metres long. A photograph of Matisse’s studio reveals that these works were initially conceived as a unified whole, and this is the first time they will have been together in over 50 years. Matisse’s famous series of Blue Nudes represent the artist’s renewed interest in the figure. London is first to host, before the exhibition travels to New York at the Museum of Modern Art and after which the works return to galleries and private owners around the world. The cut out was not a renunciation of painting and sculpture: he called it “painting with scissors.” Matisse said, “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.” Moreover, experimentation with cut-outs offered Matisse innumerable opportunities to fashion a new, aesthetically pleasing environment: “You see as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”