Seated Odalisque

(Picture courtesy of

Large Composition with Masks

(Picture courtesy of

We usually associate the art of Henri Matisse with his vivid paintings that were called ‘Fauve’, like Seated Odalisque, above.   The paintings disregard perspective and do away with shadows,  present his vision of bright color and strong lines.

In the evolution of his craft, Matisse ended by finding a perfect outlet in cutouts like Large Composition with Masks, also known as gouaches découpés.

After a serious illness, Henri Matisse turned from his vividly colored paintings to a new art form that he felt more comfortable with.   In cut-outs, he continued a design quality that had characterized his earlier works, extending to a more abstract form.

This new lease 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: “I have needed all that time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say.” With the aid of Lydia Delectorskaya and assistants he set about creating cut paper collages, often on a enormous scale, called gouaches découpés. By maneuvering scissors through prepared sheets of paper, he inaugurated a new phase of his career.

Matisse was hardly new to  cutting. It was already present to him as a descendent of generations of weavers, who was raised among weavers in Bohain-en-Vermandois, which in the 1880’s and 90’s was a center of production of fancy silks for the Parisian fashion houses. Like virtually all his northern compatriots, he had an inborn appreciation of their texture and design. He knew how to use pins and paper patterns, and he was supremely confident with scissors.

The cut out was not an renunciation of painting and sculpture: he called it “painting with scissors.” Matisse said, “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.” Moreover, experimentation with cut-outs offered Matisse innumerable opportunities to fashion a new, aesthetically pleasing environment: “You see as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk… There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”

The National Galleries in D.C. have a collection of his cut-outs, but due to their fragility they are on display at limited hours.  They are open between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Sunday.   They are a remarkable and original display of the artist’s appreciation for carefully shaped and bright colored aerial qualities.  (The links in this paragraph are of videos of the works and of the artist creating them.)


Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.