Saturday 4 July 2015

The Oasis of Matisse - the Cut-Outs

The Oasis of Matisse - the Cut-Outs, at the Stedlijk, Amsterdam

In the years following WWII, Matisse's cut-outs - the gouaches decoupees - gradually expanded to a monumental scale. In these large works, his attempts to deconstruct light and colour, dating back to the early 20th century and his use of strong colours during his Fauvist period in particular, ascended to new heights. The technique of using cut-out paper to create such vast compositions is every bit as inventive: Matisse was the first artist to employ cut-outs or collage elements on such an extraordinary scale. These artworks represent a new genre in his oeuvre. He was one of the few artists who continued to innovate well into old age and the cut-outs are a vibrant grand finale. As Matisse himself remarked, these enormous cut-outs allowed him 'to create a truly large space'.
You can see more of Matisse's cut-outs  here .

Blue Nude with Green Stockings,  1962


The Sheaf, 1953

This cut-out was originally created as a design for a ceramic tile mural - it is clearly inspired by The Parakeet and the Mermaid, completed by Matisse the year before.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid, 1962-63

'I have made myself a little garden all around me where I can walk', was Matisse's comment on this work.

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The commission for the Rosary Chapel in Vance (1949-1951) is probably Matisse's most extraordinary project. He designed every aspect of the chapel, from the stained glass windows and tile murals to the priests' robes (chasubles), the candle stands and even the architecture. Using the cut-out method, he created a total experience.


Chasuble, 1954

Chasuble, 1954

Chasuble, 1954

Christmas Eve, 1952 (stained glass)


Window in Tahiti, 1936

Views through an open window are an important theme in Matisse's oeuvre. Here we see the view from his hotel window in Tahiti.

Woman with a Lute, 1949-50 (tapestry)


Polynesia, The Sea, 1947-48

Polynesia, The Sky, 1947-48

In these monumental cut-outs Matisse comes very close to abstraction, although he always based his shapes on what he saw in the real world. He drew inspiration from recent observations, as well as distant memories: his recollections and experiences of his voyage to Tahiti in 1939 moved him to create his abstract cut-outs. In his final cut-outs he condensed the feeling of infinite space he had encountered in Tahiti to its essence: a composition of colour and light.

It is these abstract works that inspired artists of the 1950s such as Elsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko to create their Colourfield Paintings.

Robert Mangold, Two Colour Frame Painting, 1984

Elsworth Kelly, Blue Curve VI, 1962

Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1962


The Snail, 1963.


  1. If you love these works you should try to get to the chapel in Vence and to nearby Nice to the Matisse museum. The chapel is just wondrous.
    Also I find it fascinating that Matisse's journey to Tahiti also provided him with more inspiration from textiles to add to the influence in his upbringing. Tifaifai designs are interesting when seen in the light of M's cutouts.

    1. Olga, thank you for the link - I was not aware of Tifaifai designs and they are interesting indeed. As for Vence and Nice, they are on our extremely long list of places to visit, and hopefully - time and funds permitting - we will manage to get there at some stage.