Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Matisse Cut-outs at the National Gallery

My mom loved to see the Cut-outs every time she cam to Washington. They were in one of the tower rooms in the East Gallery. She loved just to sit and look at them. She got the above print as a birthday present one year. She hung it over the bed.

How the Cut-outs came about:
Diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1941, Matisse underwent surgery that left him chair and bed bound. Painting and sculpture had become physical challenges, so he turned to a new type of medium. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages, or decoupage. He would cut sheets of paper, pre-painted with gouache by his assistants, into shapes of varying colours and sizes, and arrange them to form lively compositions. Initially, these pieces were modest in size, but eventually transformed into murals or room-sized works. The result was a distinct and dimensional complexity—an art form that was not quite painting, but not quite sculpture.

Although the paper cut-out was Matisse’s major medium in the final decade of his life, his first recorded use of the technique was in 1919 during the design of decor for the Le chant du rossignol, an opera made by Igor Stravinsky.Albert C. Barnes arranged for cardboard templates to be made of the unusual dimensions of the walls onto which Matisse, in his studio in Nice, fixed the composition of painted paper shapes. Another group of cut-outs were made between 1937 and 1938, while Matisse was working on the stage sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. However, it was only after his operation that, bedridden, Matisse began to develop the cut-out technique as its own form, rather than its prior utilitarian origin.

He moved to the hilltop of Vence in 1943, where he produced his first major cut-out project for his artist's book titled Jazz. However, these cut-outs were conceived as designs for stencil prints to be looked at in the book, rather than as independent pictorial works. At this point, Matisse still thought of the cut-outs as separate from his principal art form. His new understanding of this medium unfolds with the 1946 introduction for Jazz. After summarizing his career, Matisse refers to the possibilities the cut-out technique offers, insisting "An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success…"

The number of independently conceived cut-outs steadily increased following Jazz, and eventually led to the creation of mural-size works, such as Oceania the Sky and Oceania the Sea of 1946. Under Matisse’s direction, Lydia Delectorskaya, his studio assistant, loosely pinned the silhouettes of birds, fish, and marine vegetation directly onto the walls of the room. The two Oceania pieces, his first cut-outs of this scale, evoked a trip to Tahiti he made years before.
I never get tired of seeing them. They always bring back pleasant memories of my mom.

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