Henri Matisse’s Cut Outs, On View at MoMA Until February 10th
Who was Henri Matisse?
Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was a French artist known for his significant contributions to the development of modern art, particularly in the realm of painting and sculpture. He was a prominent figure in the Fauvism movement, which emerged in the early 20th century. Fauvism is characterized by its use of bold, vibrant colors and simplified forms to create emotional impact in artwork.
Matisse’s work went through several stylistic phases over his career. He began as a traditional painter, studying at the Académie Julian in Paris. However, he soon became drawn to the avant-garde art movements of his time. Along with fellow artists like André Derain, he played a key role in the development of Fauvism.
Matisse’s paintings often featured bold and expressive use of color, capturing scenes from everyday life, still-lifes, landscapes, and portraits. Some of his most famous works include “The Dance,” “The Red Studio,” and “Woman with a Hat.”
As he continued to evolve artistically, Matisse’s work transitioned from Fauvism to a more mature style that emphasized abstraction and decorative elements. He was also known for his experimentation with different mediums, including sculpture and paper cutouts. In his later years, due to health issues that limited his mobility, he created a series of vibrant and dynamic cutout artworks.
Henri Matisse’s impact on the art world cannot be understated. His innovative use of color, form, and composition had a lasting influence on numerous artists who followed him, and he remains one of the most celebrated and influential artists of the 20th century.
Why Are The Henri Matisse Cut-Outs So Iconic?
Henri Matisse’s cut-outs are iconic for several reasons:
- Innovative Technique: Matisse’s cut-out technique was highly innovative and unique. During the latter part of his career, due to health issues that limited his mobility, he started creating art by cutting shapes out of painted paper and then arranging and gluing them onto larger surfaces. This technique allowed him to continue creating large-scale, vibrant, and dynamic works despite his physical limitations.
- Vibrant Colors and Shapes: The cut-outs are characterized by their bold and vibrant colors, as well as the simplified and abstracted shapes that Matisse used. The combination of these elements creates a visually striking and engaging effect that captures the viewer’s attention.
- Playfulness and Joy: Matisse’s cut-outs exude a sense of playfulness, freedom, and joy. The fluidity of the shapes and the way they interact with each other suggest a spontaneous and intuitive creative process. This quality of the cut-outs resonates with viewers, evoking a sense of pleasure and delight.
- Influence on Later Art: Matisse’s cut-outs were highly influential, inspiring not only other artists but also designers, fashion, and even interior decoration. The bold colors and abstract shapes found in the cut-outs have left a lasting impact on various fields beyond fine art.
- Personal Expression: Matisse’s cut-outs allowed him to express himself in a new and distinct way. He once referred to the cut-outs as his “drawing with scissors,” emphasizing their intimate connection to his creative process. This direct and tactile approach to creating art added a layer of personal expression that resonates with audiences.
- Sense of Movement: The arrangement of cut-out shapes often creates a sense of movement and rhythm within the artwork. This dynamic quality gives the cut-outs a sense of life and energy, adding to their overall impact.
- Variety of Themes: Matisse’s cut-outs covered a wide range of themes, from abstract compositions to figurative subjects, from flowers to dancers. This diversity allowed him to explore various aspects of his artistic vision and engage with different emotional and aesthetic elements.
- Legacy and Art Historical Significance: Matisse’s cut-outs represent a pivotal phase in his artistic career and contribute significantly to his legacy. They showcase his ability to continuously evolve and experiment, pushing the boundaries of traditional artistic techniques.
Matisse’s cut-outs are iconic because they embody his artistic genius, his ability to innovate even in the face of physical challenges and his profound impact on the world of art and visual culture.
See Matisse’s Cut-Outs at MoMA
On view until mid February is the Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at MoMA. After a successful career as a painter, Henri Matisse turned to cut-paper collage in his last decade, as he was unable to comfortably articulate a paintbrush because of the difficulties of old age.
Matisse’s process involved cutting pieces of painted paper, which were often prepared to his specifications by a team of assistants, and arranging the shapes into collage compositions. These compositions varied greatly in size, from no larger than a postcard, to full room-sized installations.
For the smaller works, Matisse composed his collages directly onto boards using pins, while larger compositions were arranged by Matisse’s assistants, as directed by the artist. Often, Matisse would direct his team to rearrange the cut-out pieces, resulting in multiple pin holes in the paper, which are visible in the completed works.
Matisse used a variety of scissor sizes to achieve a fluid cut line in the painted sheets of paper, and was often aided by his team of assistants for larger cuts. This method of collage allowed the artist to focus on the shape and outline of his pieces.
There are no drawn lines in his cut-outs, rather, he used only the form of his cut pieces to achieve the shapes of his compositions. Matisse considered his cut outs to be directly related to his painting practice, stating that collage was like “cutting directly into color” and “drawing with scissors”.
Interestingly, Matisse claimed that his cut-outs were very influenced by Middle Eastern design, namely the two-dimensional flatness of his compositions, and the mosaic-like effect of his large installations.