One of Tate Modern’s best works is Matisse’s “The Snail”. With the new exhibition at Tate Modern - ”Henry Matisse Cut- Outs” -, this picture, created a year before his death in 1954, suddenly falls into place alongside the other work of his last 20 years in the most comprehensive exhibition of Matisse’s late works ever held.
Matisse started experimenting with cutting out and assembling coloured forms in the 1940′s when health problems limited his mobility. He turned these into a new artform and you almost feel that they took over his life as they did his studio where cut-outs covered the walls. As he said “It is no longer the brush that slips and slides over the canvas, it is the scissors that cut into the paper and into the colour….The contour of the figure springs from the discovery of the scissors that give it the movement of circulating life”.
The exhibition includes a stunning display of his original works alongside those printed in the artist’s book “Jazz” and you have to agree with Matisse that the printed version “removes their sensitivity”. The originals have textures and shadows which, by seeing the two together, you can see are lost in the printing. By contrast, the opposite occurs with his designs for stained glass windows, several of which are shown, including the stained glass window “Nuit de Noel” (Christmas Eve) commissioned by Life magazine in January 1952 for celebrations at Rockefeller Center. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has loaned both Matisse’s cut-out and the final window, the first time both have been displayed together in the UK. Here the stained glass artist has added another layer to Matisse’s work and the colours positively glow as light pours through the coloured glass. After London, the exhibition will travel to Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is thought that the delicacy of the cut-outs is such that it is unlikely that these works will ever be brought together in this way again. This is a unique exhibition which is a highlight of the summer in London.