Matisse exhibition reunites 'Blue
Nude' paper cut-outs
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[April 15, 2014]
By Michael Roddy
— Even when he was in his
80s and in frail health, the French painter, sculptor and, latterly,
master of painted cut-out paper Henri Matisse, still had it.
That, in part, is what an exhibition of Matisse's late-life
works, some huge and covering most of the gallery walls,
demonstrates in the show opening this week at London's Tate
Modern, and then heading to the Museum of Modern Art in New
For one of the rare occasions since Matisse made them in the
south of France in the early 1950s, his four "Blue Nudes" are
together again in one room — much to the delight of Tate
director Nicholas Serota.
"These works were together in the studio and they've only rarely
been together since," he said at a preview on Monday, noting
that they have never been together in Britain before.
Nor does he consider working with paper cut-outs — an activity
usually confined to nursery art classes — child's play.
"I think that kids in school increasingly cut out paper in
emulation of Matisse," Serota said, noting that a film at the
beginning of the exhibition shows the elderly painter using
scissors with amazing dexterity.
"You see the simplicity of the format and the sophistication of
the compositions and I would defy any child to make a 'Blue
Nude' that captures the female form to the degree that he does
in these four compositions."
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Other highlights include the reunion of two vast cut-outs, "The
Snail" (1953) from the Tate's collection, and "Memory of
Oceania" (1953), which Matisse created at the same time but
which then went their separate ways, along with the gigantic
"Large Composition with Masks" (1953), on loan from the National
Gallery of Art in Washington.
"They're all closely related. You see a photo of them in the studio
together, and then he separates them," Serota said.
The first room of the exhibition contains a handful of Matisse's oil
paintings, demonstrating that the forms he created from paper are
closely related to what he painted.
But after he had an operation in 1941, his health deteriorated to
the point where painting was too strenuous, and the cut-outs became
his principal mode of expression.
The 130 works in the exhibition are mostly bathed in subdued picture
lighting, and some are covered in glass, but Serota said they are
not as fragile as they might seem to be.
"Obviously we have to show them with relatively low levels of light,
but they have proved extremely durable," he said.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)
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