This album focuses on the abstract paintings by the French Artist
Henri Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, near Nice. Just like William Shakespeare on literature, and Sigmund Freud on psychology, Matisse’s impact on Fauvism movement is tremendous.
Thanks to the influence he had on painting following the Second World War, Matisse’s reputation is higher than it has ever been before.
Following the principle discussed by Hans Hofmann, that color was responsible for structural configurations behind the picture, was showcased in American abstract art.
Works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and other color field painters, showcased this style in their pieces. Following this concept, Matisse is an influential figure of the 20th century, and a decisive figure of the time.
By defining a clearly pictorial language, of colors and arabesque lines, rather than looking at painting as a means to an end, Matisse had a great impact on future movements, and works, produced by artists in the 20th century.
In 1904, while working along the Mediterranean coast, he fully liberated his colors in bold hues that eliminated shadows and defined forms.
This experimentation—dubbed fauvism (from “wild beasts”)—was a brief but crucial step in Matisse’s lifelong goal of expression through color. As he traveled throughout North Africa and Moorish Spain from 1906 to 1913, his sense of abstraction heightened, expressed in mural-sized canvases that explored color intensity in relation to human form and studio objects.
His international reputation had been kickstarted by the 1905 ‘fauvist’ show with works such as Woman in a Hat, and gained him international patronage. When Matisse moved from Paris to Nice in 1917, he was an established painter (and sculptor). His style had continued to evolve.
Studies of Islamic art and Russian iconography had inspired him into spreading colour flatter and stronger. He gave it supremacy over perspective in works such as the seminal Harmony in Red (Red Room) (1908), and used it to capture raw, primitivist energy in the (again, red) figures of another key work La Danse (1908).
His 1915 canvas The Yellow Curtain even sees him approaching abstraction in simple shapes of colour. And in 1919, we find Matisse using scissors and paper as a tool to create maquettes (small 3D studies), in this case ones that could be moved around in a scale model of a ballet stage he was designing.
In a pencil study of the design, he actually pastes cut-out paper, like a montage. But Flavia Frigeri, the Tate co-curator of the current show, warns that ‘this should not be treated as the first known cut-out’.
Words: Herbert Wright
Henri Matisse Abstract Process
He developed studies incorporating 11 cut-outs that he could pin up, move, and photograph (which helped keep Barnes informed of progress). But Frigeri cautions that these ‘cut shapes had a purely compositional purpose… very distinct from the one they later achieved as fully fledged cut-outs’. He uses cut paper in the development of an actual canvas in 1935 — the Large Reclining Nude. This extraordinary, seminal painting, for which the blue-eyed exiled Siberian siren Lydia Delectorskaya modelled, presents a sensually curvy female torso, semi-abstracted and laid on a grid background. It had evolved substantially from a more representational state with some perspective, and changes were tried out on paper, cut out, then pinned to the canvas. But how does cut paper jump from being used as a development tool to being the ‘cut-out’ format, embodying the art itself?
Matisse’s cut-out works have a vivacity and immediacy that might otherwise suggest a young artist in his prime, but they are images that pulse with life rather than shout about it, and they belie decades of painstakingly accrued insight and experience. He was never a youthful prodigy — even his first works to wake up the art world, back in his fauvist period, were made in his 30s. His steps forward into colour and abstraction can be traced in all the decades after. In his final years, and especially after the chapel when his productivity surged forward, it was as if he was in a race against time, and certainly against failing eyesight. Happiness fuelled the work.
View the Henri Matisse Main Page