Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs

*Oceania, the Sky* and *Oceania, the Sea*

Oceania, the Sky and Oceania, the Sea

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Oceania, the Sky, summer 1946. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, on paper, mounted on canvas. 70 1/8 x 145 1/2” (178.3 x 369.7 cm). Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Gift of the Matisse family, 2004. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

GLENN LOWRY: These works represent a turning point in the evolution of the cut-outs. Initially, Matisse would compose on a small board, but then he began to pin shapes directly onto his studio walls. This allowed the works, and his ambitions, to expand. Curators Samantha Friedman and Jodi Hauptman recount how this idea unfolded:

SAMANTHA FRIEDMAN: There is an apocryphal story.

JODI HAUPTMAN: It's a great story.

SAMANTHA FRIEDMAN: He, one day, cut a small bird out of a piece of regular writing paper.

JODI HAUPTMAN: And he didn't want to throw it away, so he pinned it to the wall to cover a stain.

SAMANTHA FRIEDMAN: So once he has this shape of a bird on his wall, he starts cutting other shapes and pinning them to the wall.

JODI HAUPTMAN: It's a kind of memory picture.

SAMANTHA FRIEDMAN: He's recalling a trip that he took to Tahiti in 1930.

JODI HAUPTMAN: He's thinking back to the creatures he might have seen in the lagoons or the birds he saw in the air.

SAMANTHA FRIEDMAN: Seaweed and jellyfish and stars and algae all sort of floating on the same plane.

JODI HAUPTMAN: And at that point, he doesn't really know where it's going he's just pinning one form and seeing how it relates to another form and then to another form, and then eventually has this incredible composition.

GLENN LOWRY: Ultimately, Matisse filled two walls of his apartment with these shapes. Once the textile manufacturer Zika Ascher saw these compositions, he worked with Matisse to turn them into screenprints. What you see here are the original cut-paper forms.

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