Joy spread through colour was Henri Matisse‘s definition of modern art. I can tell you that seeing Matisse: The Cut Outs Paper Cuts at MoMA was, indeed, a joyful experience.
A decade or two ago, I saw a show of Matisse cut outs in Washington, D.C. The power of those pieces has stayed with me all these years. More recently, a favourite art professor often praises Matisse, claiming he is the foremost artist of the 20th century.
MoMa collaborated with the Tate Modern to produce this extensive show. The work is displayed chronologically, which helps understand the development of paper cutting in Matisse’s art practise.
As I understand it, the paper cuts weren’t originally intended to be the finished pieces of art. Matisse used cut out pieces of paper to plan designs (just like the aforementioned art professor advises his students.) After the printing of his book, Jazz, he was disappointed with the result.
He wrote to the publisher, Teriade, “The artist who made the picture comes away with the impression that is picture has been destroyed, and he loses every hope of it being understood by means of this approximate reproduction.”
Despite Matisse’s reservations, Teriade persisted, and eventually, Jazz was published, to great success.
And, thankfully, Matisse persisted with the cut outs. In a letter to Pierre Bonnard, he wrote, “Instead of drawing and then applying colour, I draw direct with the colour.”