Saturday, December 27, 2014

More on Henri Matisse, The Cut-Outs

By Charles Kessler

Sorry for the blogging hiatus – sometimes life intrudes.

Wednesday I went yet again to see the Museum of Modern Art's Henri Matisse, The Cut-Outs (extended until February 10th). There are a couple of things about the work that especially struck me this time.

It occurred to me that while Zulma, 1950, is commonly referred to as a nude, this figure is at least partially clothed, unlike Matisse's other cut-out nudes.
Henri Matisse, Zulma, 1950, 108 x 60 inches, gouache on paper, (Statens Museum for Kunst, National Gallery of Denmark). 
The blue, especially around her wrists, looks like the sleeves of a shirt or dress, whereas the long vertical yellow/orange shape in the center (added after the blue figure was made, according to his assistant, Paule Martin) looks like a nude. And her breasts are delineated by a darker yellow/orange line (actually rounded blue shapes on top of the yellow/orange, sized just small enough to reveal a yellow/orange outline).
I think what's going on here is the yellow/orange forms are Matisse's imagination. The eighty-one year old Matisse is evoking the act of undressing a woman with his eyes.

The other thing that struck me this time is how important small details are to Matisse's art. They help animate his work and give it life. This can best be seen in one of his largest and most abstract works, The Snail, 1953.
Henri Matisse, The Snail (L'Escargot), 1953, Gouache on paper mounted on canvas, 113 x 113 inches (Tate Gallery, London).  
The ragged edges play an important visual role. (Unlike his other cut-outs, for this one Matisse tore and ripped the paper by hand as well as cut it with a scissors.) For example, the ragged edge on the top left of the purple shape at the upper left of the painting emphasizes the physicality of the paper and makes it clear that the shape is on top of the golden yellow border of the cut-out, thus keeping the shape from visually creating a hole in space.

In fact, because of the way the shapes slightly overlap at their corners, or barely butt up against each other, they are all anchored together and are visually pushed out into the viewer's space.
Detail center, Henri Matisse, The Snail (L'Escargot), 1953.
By the way, now is not a good time to go to MoMA.
MoMA lobby soon after it opened on December 24th. 
Even the members-only "Early Hours" (in which member's are allowed to view certain exhibitions an hour before the museum opens to the public) was packed. You might want to wait until school starts up again.