The exhibition showcases 120 works made between 1936 and 1954. In his late sixties, when ill health first prevented Matisse from painting, he began to cut into painted paper with scissors to make drafts for a number of commissions. The paper was painted with gouache with atmospheric names – Light Japanese Green, Deep Cadmium Yellow and Persian Violet. Matisse chose cut-outs over painting as a simple but sophisticated medium to communicate his ideas.
Extending through fourteen rooms at Tate, the cut-outs, are bold, exuberant and often large in scale, and range in imagery from acanthuses and snowflowers to acrobats, dancers and circuses. Images from Jazz show the influence of the pochoir / stencil process in developing the cut paper technique for the cut-outs. He said of his designs for Jazz, “I cut out these gouache sheets the way you cut glass: only here they’re organised to reflect light, whereas in a stained-glass window they have to be arranged differently because light shines through them. The Sheaf and Large Decoration with Mask’s 1953 were originally conceived as designs for ceramic murals.” Thee large scale works, Tate’s The Snail, 1953 is shown alongside companion works Memory of Oceania,The Sky, 1953 and Large Decoration with Masks, 1953, initially conceived as a unified whole, and shown together for the first time in over 50 years. Matisse’s series of four Blue Nudes represent the artist’s interest in the nude figure. His assistant Lydia Delectorskya described the artist’s process in making a cut-out figure: “modelling it like a clay sculpture: sometimes adding, sometimes removing”. Works such as Zulma, Creole Dancer, The Sheaf, The Parakeet and the Mermaid are a cornucopia of colour. The exhibition includes a film by Adrian Maught of the artist making the cut-outs, a recreation of Matisse’s studio, and a tribute to Matisse’s Dominican Chapel of the Rosary at Vence in 1947.
Matisse’s studio assistant and secretary Lydia Delectorskaya recalled the starting point for Oceania, The Sky:
“Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed him to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on this wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall.’
Matisse pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves directly onto the wall of his Paris apartment without knowing in advance what the outcome would be. His inspiration was a visit to Tahiti sixteen years before. ‘It’s as though my memory had suddenly taken the place of the outside world’, he explained. ‘There, swimming every day in the lagoon, I took such intense pleasure in contemplating the submarine world.”
Matisse Live – Tate is broadcasting a film about the exhibition live into cinemas around the UK. This shows an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of the artist with footage of the works, interviews with his friends and archive footage of Matisse at work.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Tate Modern. London. 17 April – 7 September 2014. Tickets: £16.30 for adults, concessions available