After Henri Matisse’s body was weakened by a cancer operation in 1941, the French artist began “painting with scissors,” creating collages with paper shapes.
The works, many of which he made in the last 14 years of his life, are comparatively simple when you examine his early paintings such as “Woman with a Hat,” “Nu (Carmelita),” or perhaps his best-known painting, “The Dance.” When you think of cut-outs and collages, the medium sounds better suited to elementary school students. But with his health betraying him — Matisse was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t sculpt anymore — it was a way the artist could persist in communicating his vision of the world.
And persist he did: The Tate Modern has amassed 130 of Matisse’s pieces, which will be on display from April 17 to September 7.
“I have attained a form filtered to its essentials,” Matisse said of his cut-outs.
But, just like a red wine reduction, less is more.
“You see the simplicity of the format and the sophistication of the compositions and I would defy any child to make a ‘Blue Nude’ that captures the female form to the degree that he does in these four compositions,” Tate director Nicholas Serota told Reuters. The exhibition marks the first time the blue nudes will be displayed together in the United Kingdom.
Said David Ng of the Los Angeles Times:
Matisse’s cutouts are in many ways the epitome of what cultural critics term “late style” — a new creative idiom that some artists and writers acquire in their old age, as Edward Said once defined it. For Matisse, the childlike exuberance of cutouts represented a continuation of his fascination with boldly juxtaposed colors married with a pared-down, almost primitive simplicity.
It can be difficult to grasp the scale of the collages from photographs alone. Some are huge.
“They are more like installations or environments than paintings,” Tate curator Nicholas Cullinan told PBS. “They were a way of collapsing line and colour; at the same time they were a kind of sculpture — carving into pure colour.”
Around 1952 or 1953, Matisse used his cut-out method to create an oversize collage of Josephine Baker, which graced the wall of his studio. He was known for his fascination with dancers, and he was a jazz fan as well. The Tate’s exhibition includes a room devoted to artwork Matisse did for his book, “Jazz.” He died in 1954 at age 84.
Stateside Matisse fanatics will be able to see the exhibit when it moves to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in October.
Matisse was “completely electric and alive and young,” Matisse’s great-granddaughter, Sophie Matisse, told The Guardian. “He knew he only had another five minutes and he was going to make the best of it. You look at the works and he is not old at all.”