Saturday, 31 May 2014

Henri Matisse: The cut-outs

Inspired by my visit to the Matisse exhibition
I have tried my own cut-out of a still life
The exhibition of Matisse's cut-outs currently on display at Tate Modern occupies a staggering 14 galleries. The friend I was with suggested that starting at the end of the exhibition and working our way towards the beginning might be a good strategy. In this way we were able to walk against the flow of traffic, avoid feeling like being part of a herd and give our full attention to those exhibits that caught our eye.

Matisse devoted the last 17 years of his life to cutting shapes from painted paper and, in spite of health problems impairing his mobility, he was able to produce an enormous amount of work with the help of an assistant. Prior to this visit to Tate Modern my knowledge of Matisse's art was somewhat sketchy. I had thought of him as the artist who produced the Blue Nudes but this exhibition has greatly expanded my awareness of his work.

Outside Tate Modern
Matisse first used paper cut-outs to work out the compositions for his paintings. He would pin the shapes onto a canvas and this meant he was free to rearrange them as he chose. Today we see his shapes glued into their final positions but when Matisse was working on them in his studio he would move pieces around and try out new combinations and 'the tendrils of his plant forms would gently wave as air passed through the studio' which is a charming image and something I would like to have witnessed.

I was also unprepared for the vast size of some of his work. They occupy entire walls and it takes some time to travel past and absorb the intricate shapes and colours: having done that you need to turn around and walk back to take in more details. They appear to be too large for a domestic setting but some of these designs were commissioned for exactly that purpose.

This exhibition is a riot, and celebration, of colour and shape. This is encapsulated in Room 7 – Vence, The Chapel. If I re-visit this exhibition this room will be the one I return to. I gather Matisse regarded himself as an atheist but that didn't stop him from advising on the design for one stained glass window for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence when he was 77 years old. Soon enough he took on the decorative design for the entire chapel, from the windows to the chasuble robes worn by the priests. He ended up turning his studio and later his bedroom into a replica chapel so he was immersed in it all the time. Having revised the design for the window a few times Matisse declared he was hugely satisfied with the end result which is both wildly exuberant and spare at the same time. Vence is now on my wish list when we next make a visit to France so I can see the chapel for myself.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate Modern until 7 September 2014.


jacqui boyd said...

I am so jealous right now, Matisse is one of my favourite artists. I see it is on until Sept and then it moves to New York. Maybe I can manage a visit sometime soon.

Have you seen the documentary about his relationship with the nun, Jacques Marie, called A Model for Matisse? Its a wonderful piece and much better than the recent BBC Culture about Matisse. I saw it on Netflix.
Love the work that was inspired by your visit. Hope you are inspired even more and we see even more work.

Heather James said...

Thanks Jacqui for your comments and the heads up about the documentary. I shall have to look out for it. I've enjoyed Amanda Vickery's series: The story of women and art that's just been on. It finished with Georgia O'Keefe and I'm embarrassed by how little I knew of her and her work.

jacqui boyd said...

I am going to start watching that today. Thank goodness for Tunnelbear . I wouldn't be able to watch these programmes with out it.