Janna Adelstein ‘15
The French visionary Henri Matisse was one of the most celebrated artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, known for his colorful paintings. Throughout the majority of his life, Matisse worked on oil paintings, but in the 1940’s (the last decade of his life) he began working mainly with paper, cutting out various shapes in different colors. In turning to this different artistic medium, he created a new art form, the cut-out. Matisse played with different themes, compositions, schemes, environments, and contrasts. His work ranges in size from the modest to the massive, and reflects both the experimentation that was inherent to all of Matisse’s work and the reliable liveliness and color that define his paintings.
The current MoMA exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs features 100 cut-outs, the biggest collection of these works ever displayed. One of these cut-outs is Nuit de Noël (1952). The piece is made from gouache cut and pasted onto paper and is around 10’ x 54”, making it one of the largest pieces in the collection. Thought the piece is made from cut-outs, It does not represent what a viewer might think of when they think of a cut-out. None of the shapes are sharp, strict lines; rather they have a flow that is reminiscent of Matisse’s earlier works. The piece is a design for a stained glass window for the Chapel of the Rosary in France. Though the piece clearly draws on inspiration from the church with the stars in the night and the inherent symmetry, Matisse stays true to the natural ebb and flow of his works.
Another one of the pieces featured in the exhibition is Memory of Oceania (1953) which is based on a photograph take of a boat by Matisse during his time in Tahiti in 1930. The shapes of the cut-outs seem to abstractly mimic the shapes and colors of a boat. Matisse experiments with straight angular shapes and more dynamic shapes in order to express the order and disorder that define a body of water and it’s companion (the boat). When the viewer looks at this piece, the subject of the cut-out is not clear to the naked eye. Perhaps this is what truly differentiates the cut-outs from Matisse’s other works. They are not explicit, nor are they meant to be understood; rather, they are so indirect that they are almost entirely up for interpretation.
Matisse: The Cut Outs will be exhibited at MoMA until February 8th, 2015. The exhibit offers a fresh perspective into the life and work of Henri Matisse, and in doing so, deviates from the norm of displaying what the public already likes. The viewer comes to the exhibition trusting that they know Matisse’s work and therefore can anticipate the pieces featured in the exhibition, but is instead offered a completely different perspective on the work of a revolutionary artist. Since it has been over 50 years since New Yorkers have had the opportunity to view the cut-outs, this show is not to be missed.