Henri Matisse — A Small, Beautiful Book

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In 2014 and 2015, the Tate Gallery in London and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan presented an historic exhibition of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs.  The museums were deservedly mobbed for months, and I was one of many who made repeated visits, for it was well worth braving the crowds to see this epic presentation of Matisse’s cut-outs.

Alastair Sooke has written Henri Matisse  —  A Second Life, as a companion to the museums’ exhibition.  This brief, insightful book follows Matisse’s life and art from 1941 (in the middle of World War II) until his death in 1954 at the age of 84.  Sooke has provided welcome context and understanding, which I enjoyed even though I read the book months after I saw the show.

In the early 1940’s Matisse’s health was a mess and he was stuck in the middle of a war.  All things considered, it is amazing that Matisse even survived these challenges.  But challenge became opportunity, because this turned out to be the start of an amazing second act to Matisse’s already brilliant career.  It was in this period that he started working on his famous cut-outs.  The evolution of Matisse’s cut-out technique and creation of some of his specific pieces is described in the right amount of detail for the layperson.  A very clear and captivating picture emerges of Matisse snipping away rapidly and telling his assistants how to paint the paper and place the pieces.  Although this very short book has no pictures, other than some photographs of Matisse at work, it is easy to Google the particular pieces as they are discussed.  Read the book and Google away!  If you want to enrich your experience further, read the catalog for the show.  It is beautiful, too.

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