In the late 1940s, Henri Matisse turned almost exclusively to cut paper as his primary medium, introducing a new means of expression known as the cut-out.The cut outs had the scale of grand paintings, the three- dimensional presence of sculpture, and the linear quality of drawing. What Matisse had invented brought these art forms into one by created something all together new.
I am very much taken with my print of Blue Nude IV, (Spring 1952), which hangs boldly on my wall.
It’s confident, bright and beautiful and reflects Henri Matisse the Master Draftsman; celebrated for prints and drawings that could describe a figure in fluid arabesque lines.
The cut-outs Matisse made towards the end of his life (1936-1954), brought together magnificently both Matisse the colourist and Matisse the draftsman. The results were striking, exuberant and often large in scale; they adopted an engaging simplicity alongside a great deal of creative sophistication.
Matisse described the process of making the cut -outs as “cutting directly into colour” and “drawing with scissors.”
The process involved deploying two materials, white paper and goache. The use of goache (similar to watercolour but with added opacity and a chalky matte finish) provided the wide-ranging colour and complexity. The sheets of paper would be painted with watered down goache and left to dry, from these sheets shapes were cut. Shapes were pinned into position, until suitable compositions were created. The medium provided Matisse with a solution for solving compositions of large scale paintings but what started as a means to an end, became an end in itself. The cut-outs as a medium for finished works of art was an inventive development by Matisse, reflecting a renewed commitment to form and colour.
The works are renowned for their vitality, their striking play with colour and contrast, their exploitation of decorative strategies, their lively compositions and their economy of lines. But what is remarkable and truly inspiring is that Matisse created these works of beauty under a cloud of illness and exhaustion. If Matisse could no longer get out into the world, he would recreate the world in art – in all its beauty and colour.It shows remarkable strength and passion for art and life that Matisse was able to produce such bright and exuberant pieces of work, that have gone on to be enjoyed by so many.
The famous blue nudes form part of Matisse’s extensive collection of ‘cut outs’ which could be seen together as part of the Tate Modern’s 2014 exhibition, ‘Matisse:The Cut Outs’ (organised by MoMa in collaboration with Tate Modern) which went on to be exhibited in New York at MOMA.
Sir Nicholas Serota, Tate’s director, said many would view the exhibition as “the most evocative and beautiful show that London has ever seen”.
He added: “When you see them together, the skill and sheer exuberance of the material will be apparent. People sometimes say these could be done by a child, but it’s only an old man that has this incredible freedom of mind.”
The visually striking cut-outs make highly stimulating viewing; when brought together in a large scale exhibition we are free to enjoy them for what they are as well as consider the tensions that exist within them between finish and process, fine art and decoration, drawing and colour.