The Museum of Modern Art is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” which explores Matisse’s artistic turn in the 1940’s to cut paper as his primary medium. This radical new creation came to be known as a cut-out, and how it works is Matisse would cut painted sheets into forms of varying shapes and sizes which he would then arrange into lively compositions.
From small to mural to room-size works, Matisse developed a passion for this medium which as MoMA perfectly states, “reflects both a renewed commitment to form and color and an inventiveness directed to the status of the work of art, whether as a unique object, environment, ornament, or a hybrid of all of these.” Matisse was able to have freedom with the from that he could not have in lithographs or paintings as once they were done they could not be changed, but in the cut-outs they could be easily manipulated to suit his changing desires.
The motivation behind Matisse’s change to create the cut-out was his diagnoses with cancer in 1941 and his subsequent surgery that required him to use a wheelchair the rest of his life. With the aid of his beautiful Russian-born assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, he came into what he referred to as his “Une seconde vie”, a second life, for the last fourteen years of his life in which this form was his main expression.
This beautiful burst of expression explores a feminine side unseen in his previous works with twinkly and curly shapes that dance as decoration across walls and evoke such things as stars and hearts, fish, and birds. With his limited mobility this transition makes sense as Matisse found it as an opportunity to fashion a new, aesthetically pleasing environment: "You see as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk... There are leaves, fruits, a bird." Thus his cut-outs could be considered the most personal works in his oeuvre, each unique and stunning. Definitely a visit worth taking to MoMA or an investment worth making if you happen to come across one at auction.
Museum of Modern Art: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. October 12, 2014–February 8, 2015.