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Monday, June 18, 2018

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 Matisse and Me, 1952

In the final 14 years of his life, following surgery after intestinal cancer, Henri Matisse found himself more and more wheelchair-bound, initially being cared for by a student nurse. He found himself less able to paint the quick, light touches that he was so famed for. But rather than let this stop him, he experienced 'une seconde vie'.



Large Composition with Masks

Having started using painted paper initially as a compositional tool, Matisse took the technique further and started using it as an end in itself. What happened following this to the artistry of this giant of the 20th Century art world is astounding: Rather than accept defeat at the hands of cancer Matisse continued to work and expand his artistic practice. What Tate Modern has done, in collaboration with MoMA in New York, is gather works which have never been seen together since they left Matisse's studio at least 60 years ago.


             matisse_snail              Memories_of_Oceania_Matisse

                          The Snail                                         Memories of Oceania

Monique Bourgeois, the student nurse who cared for Matisse in 1942 eventually become Sister Jacques-Marie of the Dominican order had remained friends after he was well enough. When the sisters built a chapel in Venice, Sister Jacques-Marie approached the great artist to design the stained glass windows. So excited by the project, Matisse transformed his studio to resemble the interior of the chapel. Not only did he design the many windows but also the chasubles that the priests wore (and still wear to this day during official ceremonies). The Tate have dedicated several walls to the full-size maquettes of these designs and there is a segment of film of the process, with Matisse instructing his glamorous assistants as to where each coloured piece should be set, prodding the walls with his long cane, while they're up on ladders, wearing necklaces of thumbtacks and belts of hammers.



The Pink Studio

The footage the Tate Modern in London have on show is very revealing of the process. It not only shows a master compositor at work but someone who, with quite clunky shears, created fluid, organic and delicate shapes: Motifs of corals, goddesses, cheese-plants and flowers all feed into the re-creations of visits to Tahiti or the Alhambra in Spain.

There are some treasures presented here together for the first time. All his iconic Blue Nude series are in the same room facing each other. Here you can see Matisse's mastery in the medium. Using only one flat colour, he achieves an effect that is almost sculptural in execution and economic in style.



Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse  

December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954

More treasures include the entire 1947 published version (and corresponding 20 Matisse originals) of the Jazz book alongside the handwritten notes by Matisse to young artists (we wished we spoke better French!). Also seen for the first time together is the centrepiece of the exhibition, the 10-metre long Large Composition with Masks 1953, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, The Snail 1953 (Tate) and Memories of Oceania 1953 (MoMA, the exhibition partner) which were conceived as a tile decoration and accompanying diptych.The large composition was too big for the client's space and Matisse designed three more compositions for them, the fourth being the final one to be accepted. How many grand artists of his age and status would have had the energy or the humility to return to composing on a large scale again and again until the client was happy?




The cutouts are about juxtaposing colour to create a reaction. This is where Matisse, and the exhibition, really excels. Firstly, we realised that the paper that he uses was just plain paper, painted with gouache – a vitrine showing swatches of colour ranges, each one varying by the smallest change in tone and shade.



La Musica:  El Azul de Matisse

Matisse was meticulous about which colours went where and about what exact colour they should be. There is room after room of colours bursting from their frames, most notably where one wall is dedicated to the group of cutouts which used to hang freely on Matisse's studio wall in Vence, now framed. Also in this room are the final two fully-realised painting Matisse ever made, still-lifes also from his studio at La Villa Reve in Vence.

Matisse_2     Matisse_4

Matisse's Cutouts is proof of the tenacity of the artist, to keep on doing what he must. The range of works that is on show here shows someone not slowing down as they age but someone who, due to circumstances, finds a new life blooming in a different medium.