Artist Stories

Henri Matisse’s Cut-Outs

Zuzanna Stańska 29 December 2021 min Read

Coping with the difficulties of old age and illness in the years following World War II, Matisse nonetheless produced some of the most vibrant and dynamic works of his career. The artist turned almost exclusively to cutting paper as his primary medium. He lived and worked in southern France, in sunny studios in Vence and Nice. Following surgeries for severe intestinal disease, he was confined mostly to his bed and to a wheelchair. Working with paper turned out to be an ideal solution to his limited range of movement.

In this short video, you can see rare colored footage of Henri Matisse himself making paper cut-outs:

Matisse initially kept his cut-out technique a secret. In 1943, however, he began to work on Jazz, an illustrated book of cut-out designs. Its main theme was the circus, and its pages reproduced Matisse’s lively paper acrobats, clowns, and animals. However, there were also hints of wartime violence in the illustrations’ exploding starbursts and falling bodies.

Henri Matisse, Icarus 1946 Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Droits réservés © Succession Henri Matisse / DACS 2013
Henri Matisse, Icarus, 1946, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.

The artist created some of his best-known art in the final decade of his life, and he made it from the simplest materials: shapes cut from colorful sheets of paper. He described these works as “drawing with scissors,” and he used this technique for works of various sizes and subjects.

Matisse at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1952. Photo: Lydia Delectorskaya. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse
Matisse at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1952. Photo by Lydia Delectorskaya. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse.

Matisse died in 1954 at the age of 84. His last years of life led to an extraordinary burst of expression, the culmination of half a century of work, but also to a radical renewal that made it possible for him to create what he had always struggled for. He wrote:

I have needed all that time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say.

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