The Matisse Cut-Out exhibition is nothing short of extraordinary. It has been 5 years in the making and is the result of the collaborative efforts of The Tate Modern in London and MoMA in New York, together they have assembled a breathtaking collection of Matisse’s finest work from the final 15 years of his life.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is one of the great names of twentieth-century art who is most often heralded for his innovative use of colour. In the latter years of his life Matisse abandoned the constraints of easel painting and developed a new technique of gouached, cut and glued paper. This exhibition traces the evolution of his art and the technique, it is arranged chronologically showing how the first cut-outs were predominantly design aids, gradually developing into more complex pictures and eventually huge stand alone compositions. The cut-outs were often just the beginning of the designs’ life and would be translated into mediums such as stained-glass windows, ceramic tile murals, book illustrations, church vestments and other textiles.
Amongst the iconic images and well known works there are many rarely seen pieces from private collections. The works are beautiful and we are treated to an extravaganza of colour and design not seen in one place before, in this aspect the exhibition is quite a coup. Matisse had a fascination with Dance and in room 2 the Tate has brought together the Dancers, Matisse designed the costumes and scenes for a ballet choreographed by Leonide Massine to Shostakovich’s Symphony 1, they are captivating. Later we see the iconic Icarus that is hung amongst other illustrations he created for his book Jazz that showed the development of the cut paper technique. Forms inspired by nature are dominant in his work and we see swallows, sharks, algae, coral, leaves and birds, all in exuberant colours throughout the exhibition, The Parakeet and the Mermaid, one his largest cut-outs, is displayed to great effect alone on a single wall. Matisse was profoundly influenced by his trip to Tahiti in 1930 and the Tate has bought together a number of his most dazzling Tahitian inspired works including Oceania, The Snail and The memory of Oceania. There is also a whole room dedicated to the designs he made for the Dominican Chapel in Vence, Matisse undertook the whole decorative scheme of the chapel, from the windows to the priest’s robes.
As well as the works themselves there is footage of Matisse and his assistants at work in his bedroom come studio. It is mesmerising to watch the artist at work and the thing that struck me was the exactness and confidence with which he cuts, it is as if he is working to a very precise pattern or template in his head. And as one watches one feels the three dimensional image in his mind’s eye being translated into the two dimensional medium in his hands right before your eyes.
The exhibition is pure delight, the colours, the light and the decorative nature of the designs are a feast for the eyes and food for the soul.
Image credits: Images are from the Tate, the internet and google images