Henri Matisse – The Cut Outs at Tate Modern

Henri Matisse - The Cut Outs at Tate Modern

This exhibition showed the work created by Matisse towards the end of his career, when his health stopped him from being able to paint he would ‘carve in colour’ and create his cut outs. Developing a whole new medium. They have a striking simplicity juxtaposed with incredible creative sophistication. In essence ‘it was like drawing, but with scissors…there was a sensuality in the cutting’ – as observed by his one-time assistant Jacqueline Duheme.

According to van Gogh, colour should be incandescent, more vivd than nature’s own harmony. In one of his letters he wrote: ‘Exaggerate the essential, leave the obvious vague.’ This is what Matisse was doing. ‘He exaggerated his perceptions. In his art there was always a big contrast of black, white and then the strong colours that could be complementary…or not. Just as with other Fauve painters, the work was shouting stronger than nature itself. Nature was not to be described; it was to be created over and over until the viewer could smell, feel, touch and be at one with the artists vision and feelings. I think its worth remembering too that his work appeared about the same time as the birth of jazz, which is also characterised by contrasts.’ (Taken from ‘Picasso, Matisse and Me’ by Francoise Gilot – TATE ETC Magazine)


It was an incredibly rich and alive exhibition – showing truly just how strong colour can make you feel. The scale also overtakes you in a new way – because you are never used to seeing it in that size when looking at the images in books. It makes all the difference to see it in real life and had a very overwhelming effect on me.

‘The show is beautifully orchestrated. Just as you are wondering what would happen if Matisse didn’t use magenta, cobalt and gold, say, the very next gallery presents an ocean of white paper cut-outs floating on taupe screens with no loss of power or effect.

Oceania, the Sea 1946 matisse

These big works were once on the walls of Matisse’s Paris apartment – dancing swallows, silvery starfish, coral fronds, creatures like laughing dolphins and comical cod, all swimming together in frond-fringed space. Matisse had Oceania, the Sky in his Paris flat and an Eden in Vence; only imagine how it must have felt when these ephemeral shapes lifted and moved on the walls.

Matisse was cutting into space, as well as colour. The scissoring itself, he said, was “the graphic, linear equivalent of the sensation of flight”. Something of that sensation is present in the works, and releases a corresponding joy in the viewer. And the experience of seeing so many cut-outs (there are around 130 in this show) is that one feels even closer to Matisse’s flying line than in the paintings, closer to the hand that cuts the tiny indentation to make a leaf flicker or the vast sweeping curve of an odalisque’s back.’ Guardian Review

the fall of icarus 1943 matisse


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