Tate Modern’s major exhibition, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, is the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the artist’s paper cut-outs made between 1943 and 1954. It brings together around 120 works, many seen together for the first time, in a groundbreaking reassessment of Matisse’s colourful and innovative final works.
Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse (1869–1954) is one of the leading figures of modern art and one of the most significant colourists of all time. A draughtsman, printmaker, sculptor and painter, his unparalleled cut-outs are among the most significant of any artist’s late works. In a career spanning over half a century, Matisse, made a large body of work of which the cut-outs are a brilliant final chapter in his long career.
Matisse’s first cut-outs were made between 1943 and 1947 and were collected together in Jazz 1947, a book of 20 plates. Copies, published by Teriade and featuring a text hand-written by Matisse, is shown alongside the original cut-outs. Other major cut-outs in the exhibition include Tate’s The Snail 1953, its sister work Memory of Oceania 1953 and Large Composition with Masks 1953. A photograph of Matisse’s studio reveals that these works were initially conceived as a unified whole, and this is the first time these three large-scale works will have been together since they were made in Matisse’s studio. Matisse’s renewed interest in representing the figure is demonstrated by the display of a number of Matisse’s Blue Nudes including, the most significant of the group Blue Nude I 1952.
When ill health first prevented Matisse from painting, he began to cut into painted paper with scissors as his primary technique to make maquettes for a number of commissions, from books and stained glass window designs to tapestries and ceramics. In the cut-outs, outlines take on sculptural form and painted sheets of paper are infused with the luminosity of stained glass. Using colour, Matisse evokes the convulsive surface of water and the lushness of vegetation. The result reflected both a renewed commitment to form and colour and an inventiveness freshly directed to the status of the work of art.
The exhibition re-examines the cut-outs in terms of the methods and materials that Matisse used, and their double lives, first as contingent and mutable in the studio and ultimately as permanent works through mounting and framing. The exhibition highlights the tensions in the works between finish and process; fine art and decoration; contemplation and utility; and drawing and colour.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-outs is curated by Nicholas Cullinan, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Nicholas Serota, Director with Flavia Frigeri, Assistant Curator, Tate and at the Museum of Modern Art, New York by Jodi Hauptman, Curator, Department of Drawings, and Karl Buchberg, Senior Conservator, with Samantha Friedman, Assistant Curator.