Henri Matisse - The cut outs - Tate Modern, London until 7th September 2014
This is a once in a life time exhibition of one of the world’s greatest artists of all time as he discovered a new artistic genre; Henri Matisse. Matisse invented a ground breaking new method of art in the brilliant final chapter of his life - that of cutting shapes and assembling them to form new paintings of swirling, brilliant colours; namely the cut outs. The Tate Modern has assembled some 120 of his works and take us on a detailed journey of his inner thinking and creations. Many of these works are too fragile to travel or be exhibited again so this may be the last time you will be able to admire them.
Born in 1869 Matisse’ preferred artistic genre up until the 1940’s was oil but health problems limited his mobility and he soon was forced to develop a new art form leading him to the cut outs. This involved using repainted sheets of colour which were to become his ‘palette’ from which he would cut out numerous shapes using gigantic scissors which he would then assemble into paintings using his assistants to help him. One of his most beautiful creations on display is his huge book called Jazz. “Two Dancers” is part of Jazz whereby we see two bounding black figures who are barely contained by the frame surrounding them and the juxtaposition of black, blue and red. Matisse had a passion for colour, portrayed in all of his work, especially “The Horse, The Rider and the Clown” where he places the sharp purple of the horse against a bright blue background. In ‘The Cowboy’ Matisse adventurously mixes greens, yellows and blues as the background to his two black subject forms. The colour effect is brilliant and uplifting and as you weave through the show it is hard not to feel a sense of delight and positive energy and you can see why Matisse was called the greatest colourist of the twentieth century.
Somehow Matisse was able to find a way to access a whole realm of stored images in his mind and he worked at a prolific pace. He said himself: ‘With my eyes wide open I absorbed everything as a sponge absorbs liquid. It is only now that these wonders have returned to me, with tenderness and clarity” We see how his studio in Vence became the foundation for his cut outs which he composed directly on the wall and many shapes emerged: coral, algae, birds, fish, plant and seaweed shapes and these were assembled all together to create a myriad of shapes and colours on the walls of his studio.The video footages of Matisse and his assistant at work together in his studio are particularly interesting. Much of Matisse’ work culminated in his famous designs for the Domenican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence whereby he took on the whole decorative scheme of the Vence chapel from the stain glass windows to the chasuble robes worn by the priests. He turned his entire studio and bedroom into a replica chapel so he was immersed at all times in it. We see how the pale blue window is composed of panels of different colours with green taking up half and blue the other. The chapel is quintessentially mediterranean.
One of the highlights of the show, certainly for me, is Matisse’ Blue Nudes, assembled as they are all together in one room. They are a pure delight and the most striking example of what Matisse called himself “cutting directly into colour” as if they are sculptures. Blue Nude IV was the first of the series which show faint lines of charcoal drawings and layered separate small pieces of blue paper as Matisse struggled with the shape. The other Blue Nudes were cut in one single movement and you see how each shape combines to make a whole.Their grace and beauty are timeless. Similarly his ‘Snail’ is likewise astounding; as Matisse drew from nature to create a work of art where he distills the movement of the snail into a cartwheel of colours.
It is a veritable treasure of images, compositions and colour revealing Matisse to be not only a talented artist but a pioneer of a new art form. The extraordinary energy and sense of joy that emanates from his works is incredible. It is an exhibition that is a must for your diary.!
Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor Visitmuseums.com