The Tate Modern has unveiled a spectacular new exhibition, The Cut-Outs by the late Henri Matisse. The exhibition features work created out of paper that has been painted brightly in gouache and then cut into shapes and collaged onto larger backgrounds. The works cover the latter period of his life, and collectively they describe a kind of portrait of his existence. As he could only infrequently leave his bed, he describes this work as a way to create a garden “all around” with “leaves, fruit, a bird.”
Henri Matisse was born in 1869 in France and along with Marcel Duchamp and Picasso, he is known for being at the forefront of the art world, shaking up and revolutionizing art as we know it. He was an accomplished draughtsman, sculptor and print maker, all of which can be seen in elements of his late work, the whole a portrait of his own colorful, fragmented life. As he continued with his experiments using scissors and paint, France was under the thumb of Nazi Germany. His wife had left him and his daughter was captured and tortured for helping the Resistance. The artist spent his last years confined to a wheelchair after surgery for bowel cancer left him in a weakened state. But in spite of this, he was as prolific as ever. The final 15 years of his life, which are showcased in The Cut-Outs exhibition, are known to be one of the most fruitful periods.
There is an almost regressive feel to the work, like a child at play, but at the same time the Cut-Outs are controlled and yet their brightness verges on ecstasy. The elements that would have been in his surroundings for most of this period, the violence, the sense of conquering forces, the surgical incisions that come with a war zone, are absent here. The happy, bright vibrancy of the works have a truth to them, rather than a blanket thrown over with misery beneath.
His works started on a small-scale and became more and more enlarged. Initially he pinned his creations to the wall of the room which was both bedroom and studio in the South of France. He was quoted as saying at the time that it was the art he created once his cancer had been cured that “constitutes my real self.” There is a sense in these pieces that the mill-wheel had been lifted from his neck, giving the work an energy and vibrancy.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, showcases work that the artist made between 1936 and his death in 1954. There are 120 works in total on display. It will be the first time that images such as The Snail and sister composition, Memory of Oceania have been seen together. Also on display is the famous series The Blue Nudes, with which Matisse refocused his portrayal of the female form. The artist has created a truly stunning display of works that pre-dates movements such as Pop Art where he would have felt right at home. He was said to be masterful with a pair of scissors, cutting without any preparatory sketching. He called the recovery period after his illness a second chance at life. The works taken together showcase a portrait of his emotional state at the time, which shows joy triumphing over illness and disruption.
By Sara Watson