Matisse

One of the means on which I rely to keep up the culture quota is the set of various membership schemes available at London institutions, a subject I plan to investigate properly in future. Meanwhile, I was entitled to go to a members’ only day at Tate Modern last week to see the Matisse Cut-Outs, offering slightly less crowded conditions than normal.

The first room wasn’t promising at all. The paper version of an existing painting appeared to be just an amateurish dab and I wondered whether the remaining 13 rooms would be disappointing, too. However, this was very deceptive. The third room provides a direct comparison between printed work and the cut-out originals, from the ‘Jazz’ book, formed of Matisse’s illustrations and notes. The cut-outs are so much more expressive than the book prints, the colours are more vibrant and the texture of the overlapping segments of paper adds to your connection with Matisse’s original intention. In the Oceania room you can sense his playfulness, with the interchange of birds and fish between the two murals.

In the fifth room there is a recreation of the decoration of Matisse’s Vence studio, taking up an entire wall, which is quite stunning. There is a key on the side wall, which I read after my initial look. Coming back, I heard two people discussing one of the wall cut-outs, thinking that it looked like an hourglass. On the key it’s listed as a propeller, so I told them this.

Maybe that’s the female perspective,

one of them said.

One thing you see again and again in this show is that when Matisse created a design for a book or a poster, the final realisation of the design was always missing something – either details from the original, or less intense colouring, or a general simplification – which is why the show is so good, giving you the chance to compare that you wouldn’t normally have.

There’s a film in which you can see Matisse working on designs for chasubles with his assistants, and the finished items are in room seven, plus some rather startling stained glass designs. It was at this point that I noticed how many people were walking around smiling and laughing. This show seems to make people very happy. That said, I did see some children marching through, whose attention clearly lay elsewhere… The blurb claimed that Zulma was the cleverer artwork but I preferred the Creole Dancer, in the eighth room, though on second viewing I did notice the remarkable colours of the vase in the corner of Zulma. I overheard someone say that the

blue and red are amazing

while I liked the Chinese fish and the 1,001 Nights, too.

In Large Decoration with Masks it’s possible to see the order in which Matisse constructed the cut-outs, even at such a large scale, by looking at the layers of paper. Similarly you can see all the pinholes up close on the Acanthuses, indicating all the experimentation and re-positioning that went on. The Sheaf, in the same room (13) has extraordinary colours, while in the final room the stained glass window, the design for which we’ve seen earlier, shines beautifully, a rare instance in which the finished product is better than the design. Someone did completely disagree with this, I noticed:

It’s just not very well done. You’ve lost the central path.

Offering a contrary view, one younger viewer said:

I just like stained glass.

Someone else discussed with his wife how to take up commercial opportunities:

Which way are the publications? I don’t think it matters.

Unusually, I’ve seen something right at the start of its run, should you wish to attend and calibrate my findings. I’ll certainly be going again. Maybe I’ll have bought the “app” by then, though I certainly won’t be clogging up everyone else’s view. Hmmph.

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