Marvelling at Matisse

Posted by Samantha Corbett on 13 June 2014

Documenting Matisse’s latter years and his ‘carving into colour’ phase, The Cut-Outs at London’s Tate Modern is one exhibition that’s definitely worth going to this year.

Matisse Blue Nude

Blue Nude

As I watch the video of the old man in action, I’m awed by his confidence and the fluidity of his motions. He slices the piece of coloured paper with quick, decisive snips – no hesitation, just astounding agility. Various shapes start to form and then he takes his long stick and delivers a series of instructions to his assistant, who pins the cut-outs on the canvas according to his vision. Matisse’s name is on the canvas, but his work would not have been possible without these ladies, in their tight dresses and heels …

I’m at Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at London’s Tate Modern, recorded as being one of its most popular exhibitions to date. I’ve always been drawn to Matisse’s paintings – I think it’s his powerful use of form and colour that really grips me – so opposite to my own style but perhaps that’s why I love it. This exhibition documents a part of his life that is largely unknown – his latter years, when he was ill and in his final chapter. Supposedly, he first cut out shapes to cover a mark in the wall. Soon the entire wall was filled with colourful, exotic scenes and Matisse’s new method began to take shape – the era of ‘carving into colour.’ It’s been 50 years since his cut-outs have been in one place at one time and it’s a privilege to wander through the white-walled rooms of the Tate, adorned in their dramatic splashes of colour and craft.

There are 120 works in total, each powerful and captivating in its own right. I love the motion in them, and their startling simplicity that masks a deep complexity and understanding of form. The Large Composition with Masks 1953 is my particular favourite. Spanning 10 metres, you can’t help but fall into it – I have a slight obsession with symmetry and the bright, repetitive flower patterns and elegant faces speak to me instantaneously from across the room. It’s a sensory circus of shapes, patterns, colours and emotions – not something a kid could do with craft scissors, paper and Pritt. Deceptive simplicity; maybe that’s the key.

As mentioned before, this is the first time in 50 years that all these works have come together as a unified whole, as Matisse originally intended. And the result is beautiful … just beautiful. His Blue Nudes are another favourite – a seemingly effortless depiction of the female form with remarkable allure and sophistication.

Visiting this exhibition was, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my recent trip to the UK. Granted, I’m a complete art nerd, but I think it’s something that most people could appreciate, if not love. The exhibition is running until the 7th of September, so if you happen to be anywhere near the Tate, go and see it for yourself. Also, England is very grey and rainy, but you knew that already.