Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Oasis of Matisse

The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is currently showing “The Oasis of Matisse,” an exhibit of more than 100 works of oils, sketches, prints and stained glass that trace the path that led to the artist’s conception of “cut-outs.” The exhibit culminates with the Stedelijk’s enormous cut-out The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952-1953).

Artists have historically viewed line and color as long-standing opposing elements and struggled to harmonize them in their works. Matisse achieved one solution when he created the new technique of cut-outs. Describing the method as “drawing with scissors,” he would use paper coated with gouache and cut out motifs from them as if he were drawing lines with the scissors. By arranging the cut out pieces, he was able to express line and color in unison. As his words “drawing with scissors” convey, by sketching lines with scissors, Matisse was cutting and bringing out the spirit of colors. He was thus able to shape colors and harmonize line and color.

While cut-outs was a new technique, many of the motifs Matisse employed such as flowers and plants were subjects that he had favored from his early years. The motifs appearing often were scenes from his 1930s voyage to Tahiti that stunned the artist with their nearly blindingly powerful beauty of the South Seas paradise. The colorful cut-outs capture the constantly shifting colors of the blue ocean reflecting the strong sunlight, the birds that fly through the blue skies and the unique shapes of plants and water weeds.

The four pieces in the photograph(Fig.1) were works created over two walls of the artist’s atelier. The large horizontal work, second from right, is The Parakeet and the Mermaid. Matisse made these pieces while convalescing at home following major surgery for abdominal cancer. When cutting, Matisse did not place the paper on a table but rather lifted the paper in his left hand and moved the scissors easily like a seagull in flight. He handed the cut-out to an assistant who nailed it in the location designated by the artist with a hammer. Sometimes the assistant would climb on a step ladder to secure the cut-out. The colorful cut-outs decorated the wall, transforming his atelier into an oasis.

The exhibit is separated into two parts on the first and second floors. The first floor meticulously displays the works that led up to the cut-outs, contrasting them with pieces by other artists of the time as well as artists who were influenced by Matisse. The second floor shows the cut-outs and the works that evolved from the cut-outs including the print book “Jazz,” stained glass and costumes.

The Oasis of Matisse Until August 16, 2015

Museumplein 10
1071 DJ Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Opening times:
Mon-Sun 10:00-18:00 (Thurs till 22:00)