Matisse: Cut-Outs at MOMA – Part Two by Franklin Hill Perrell

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A Sketch of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Matisse’s images of Eden, which abound in his work after he moved to the Riviera in the 1920’s, are a striking contrast to his youthful surroundings in northern France near the Belgian border (later the front lines in World War I). His childhood environs were damp and cool, and its visual atmosphere was grey and green. There, industry prevailed over leisure. Matisse’s family, after over a century of striving, achieved a solid middle class status by the time of his birth in 1869.

Matisse’s birthplace was Le Cateau Cambresis (where a museum of his work was established by the artist in 1952). He grew up in nearby Bohain, which achieved renown as a historic center of the textile industry. Beautifully multi-colored weavings, these Bohain fabrics were an inspiration to his work, a connection portrayed in exhibitions (1995) at the Royal Academy in London and the Metropolitan Museum Art.

Matisse’s parents, who owned their own home and shop (his father became a successful grain and hardware merchant), were determined that their son become a lawyer. A childhood proclivity for art was never for a moment taken as a clue to a serious future interest, yet alone a career. Yet the story has become legendary: the artist’s mother abetted destiny by supplying her son with a paint kit during recovery from appendicitis in 1889, an amusement that was not intended to deflect his pre-determined professional path.

There would be no turning back. Local classes led to a grudgingly subsidized residency for study in Paris beginning in 1891. His ensuing Bohemian life was underscored by a youthful love affair with the model Caroline Joblau and the birth of their daughter Marguerite in 1894 (whom Matisse famously depicted with a black scarf to conceal scars of a tracheotomy). After absorbing academic realism, and Impressionism, Matisse’s gifts as a colorist exploded under the influence of artist Paul Signac (second in fame to Seurat as a pointillist) who during 1904-05 became at once mentor and patron, encouraging his protege to paint in vivid hues of unmixed color, used like mosaics, decoratively and flat, stridently detached from observed reality. Matisse found his essential self in art through this stimulus to regard color as an independently expressive means.

Notoriety, and a degree of fame, albeit without significant financial reward, were occasioned by Matisse’s recognition as leader of a new art movement, Fauvism, greeted as a sensation in 1905 for brilliant colors beyond anything yet seen, even Van Gogh’s. Critic Louis Vauxcelles, remembered today for naming Cubism and Fauvism (fauve, French for wild beast), responded with the latter appellation in his review of the Salon d’Automne that year. Matisse (with ten paintings on exhibit) dominated a gallery of fellow colorists Derain, Vlaminck, Manguin and Marquet. Modestly, in the gallery’s center was displayed a delicate figural sculpture, while nearby was Henri Rousseau’s jungle scene, The Hungry Lion (1905).  Vauxcelles commented: “the candor of this bust comes as a surprise amid this orgy of pure tones: Donatello in a wild beasts’ den.”

Photos Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art
Top Left: Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). The Codomas (Les Codomas), 1943. Maquette for plate XI from the illustrated book Jazz (1947). Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on canvas. 17 1/8 x 26 3/8” (43.5 x 67.1 cm). Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Dation, 1985. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Top Right: Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Panel with Mask (Le Panneau au masque), 1947. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted. 43 5/16 x 20 7/8” (110 x 53 cm). Designmuseum Danmark. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  Bottom Left: Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Zulma, early 1950. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted. 93 11/16 x 52 3/8″ (238 x 133 cm). Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  Bottom Right: Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Composition, Black and Red (Composition, noir et rouge), 1947. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted. 16 x 20 ¾” (40.6 x 52.7 cm). Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. Gift of Professor and Mrs. John McAndrew. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


This three part essay is part of Artful Circle’s journalistic endeavor: Artful Observer: Blog. To read the blog, you can visit on our website, or directly on Our articles will not only feature Artful Circle activities, but also art news about blockbuster museum exhibitions and showcasing selected artists and gallery shows. For the last few weeks, Franklin Hill Perrell has been making several visits to the latest exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art on Henri Matisse and his cut-outs. After viewing the show and doing extensive additional research, he has put together an in-depth article that will help you appreciate the exhibit and art with deeper understanding. Whether you have the opportunity to get to MOMA or simply want to learn more, Franklin has created a comprehensive essay for your reading pleasure.

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