Matisse – the Cut-Outs

Last week I visited the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at the Tate Modern. This was a completely joyful exhibition. Full of large-scale works and bright colours. You could not help but be cheered looking at the work.

Exhibits include pages from his journals featuring pages of handwriting in large brush script along with original cut-outs from which prints were subsequently made.

What is fascinating about these original cut outs is that you can SEE how these were made – it ways you never expected or had seen before. Having only seen such things reproduced, the colours become flat and solid – either by intention or necessity of process. But in the originals you can see the brush strokes where the paint was applied to the paper to create the solid colour. You can see pencil marks where Matisse has roughed out the composition. You can see where he has layered up cut pieces to achieve exactly the right shape. All these are not apparent in the reproductions. Occasionally you see the odd join – but on the whole they tend to be seen as solids. Probably because the colours condense as they are reproduced.

Not only do you get to see all the iconic cut-outs you recognise but there is also a lot of information about how Matisse constructed his images. Recreations of his studio space – where the images are placed on the walls as they were when he created them. The scale of many of these works are far, far larger than I expected. There are videos showing Matisse at work: watching him cut out the shapes is mesmerising. There is also great bits of information giving an insight into the amount of thought Matisse put into these works. He would direct his assistants to move the pieces around on the wall/canvas using pins to keep them in place. One work had over 1000 pinholes in the paper – showing how much Matisse had reworked the positions of the cut-outs.

It was also surprising how well these cut-outs translate to stained glass and there are full size works showing the drawings for the windows as well as an example of a backlit stained glass window.

The scale and quantity of the works is amazing and being able to see how the work was created and developed was fascinating and amazing in turns. I can see why the exhibition is labelled a ‘once in a lifetime chance to see’ as it is unusual to see such familiar work shown in all its stages as it progresses through both Matisse’s individual pieces and career. It is also strange to think of these papers as being painted to the appropriate colour – but of course, how else would he achieve the desired colour? One of the most fascinating pieces for me, were sample chips of colour from Matisse’s sheets of colour and glass for the windows – so the colours could be accurately mapped. Unfortunately these were not available as cards…

The whole show was joyful, riotous and immersive – many of the works sucking you in to the environment Matisse created.

Definitely one to see and not easily forgotten.

Reviews and further information on the exhibition can be found here:



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