23 August 2014

Matisse Cut-Outs at Tate Modern

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern has been such a well-publicised show since it opened in April that there is little for me to add here. Matisse (1869-1954) was suffering from ill-health in the 1940s to such an extent that he had to give up painting. He turned to mounting cut-out pieces of gouached paper (découpages in French) , a technique which he had previously used to work out arrangements for paintings, as in Still Life with Shell, (1940, Nature morte avec coquillage, below top as a cut-out, below lower as an oil):

This is the starting point of the exhibition and is followed by The Lyre (La lyre, 1946, below left), as the first intentioned Matisse cut-out – later comes one of his last paintings, Interior with Black Fern (Intérieur à la fougère noire, 1948, below right):

Then comes the original set of 20 cut-out maquettes, mostly of circus subjects, which Matisse made during the Occupation and  hung above the corresponding pages of the art book, Jazz, eventually published by Tériade in 1947; The Horse/, the Rider and the Clown, plate 5 (Le cheval, l’ecuyere et le clown, 1943 below left) and Icarus, plate 8 (Icare, 1943/44 below right):

It is interesting to see the flattening of appearance and colour shift which resulted from the stencil-printing (“… the transposition, which removes their sensitivity” as Matisse put it).

There are of the order of 100 works in this show. Among the highlights are magazine and book covers, Cahiers d’Art, 1936 (below top) and Henri-Cartier Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, 1952 below lower): 

... the designs for the Dominican Chapel at Vence (Alpes Maritimes department, SE France), Zulma (1950, below left) and, rather smaller, some of Matisse’s best-known images such as the Blue Nudes, (all four brought together), (Nu bleu II, 1952, below right):

... and Tate’s Snail (Escargot, 195x, below left) and The Sheaf (La grebe, 1953), below right):

This is a spectacular exhibition which, as one of its curators points out, is unlikely to be repeated and it has an appropriately fine catalogue. Visitors should be able to take away lasting impressions of Matisse’s mastery of form and colour, the latter being particularly welcome during a disappointing London summer and probably even more so during New York’s next winter - Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs will be at Museum of Modern Art from 14 October to 15 February. It closes at Tate Modern on 7 September. Most, but not all, works appear in both London and New York - exceptions include The Swimming Pool (La Piscine, 1952, below) which has not left MoMA – but it is 1.85m x 16.4m:


  1. Just saw the show here in New York at MoMA. Beautiful, fabulous, and joyous.
    Best show in years! And I just came back from Florence where I did some serious looking at art for almost 2 weeks every day....Now I'm reading about that last decade of Matisse's life, which he called 'a second life'.

  2. Thank you for commenting here. I'm glad you enjoyed this show as much as I did. Hilary Spurling's biography of Matisse, published in the US I believe, is highly regarded.