As the groundbreaking exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs enters its final weeks, visitors can rest assured that there’s more Matisse to discover at MoMA. Head to the fifth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries, where you’ll encounter an entire room devoted to Matisse’s early-20th-century work—an especially fertile period for this modern master—with an unexpected twist.
The current collection installation situates four of Matisse’s monotypes and two drawings among his painting and sculpture from the same period. The gallery’s canonical paintings, such as Dance (I) (1909) and The Red Studio (1911)—along with the cut-outs in the Matisse exhibition on the sixth floor—attest to his stature as one of the greatest innovators of the 20th century. However, less well known is Matisse’s deep, experimental involvement with printmaking, which began in 1900 as an extension of his adeptness as a draftsman and lasted for more than 50 years, yielding a remarkable 800-plus prints. The group of monotypes on display sheds light on his technical innovation with printmaking and the linkages across the artist’s work in various mediums.
Between 1914 and 1917, Matisse made a group of 69 monotypes, the only works he made in that medium during his career. A monotype is related to, yet distinct from, an editioned print—a work of art made by a transfer process that is printed in multiple examples from a matrix, such as a copper plate. Monotypes are printed through a transfer process, but each work is unique, printed just once from its matrix. Matisse created his black-and-white monotypes by covering a copper plate with black ink and then lightly and swiftly scratching into the pigment with a tool, so that a delicate image emerged through the dense ground. To transfer the image to paper, a sheet was laid on top of the plate and then run through the printing press, forcing the paper to pick up the ink. The resulting compositions are reduced to their essential forms, contrasting the white “linework” of the paper with the black ink ground. (Matisse’s monotypes are the inverse of his contemporaneous etchings, many of which utilized the same copper plates.)
Executed on a small scale with linear fluidity, the monotypes have the immediacy of Matisse’s drawings. This quality is especially pronounced in the ink drawing Marguerite Reading (c. 1906), which depicts the artist’s daughter Marguerite (drawn by Matisse when she was a child). It demonstrates the same gestural ease and economy of line that Matisse achieved in his monotypes, but with the inverse coloration. The connection here goes beyond a similarity in line; a little less than a decade later, Marguerite would assist her father with his monotype printing in the quai Saint-Michel studio, and she later recalled the “great moment of emotion when one discovered the imprint on the sheet of paper.”
The monotype also had a dramatic impact on the artist’s paintings from this time, leading him to simplify outlines, suppress details, and employ black to express a tension between positive and negative space. Despite their differences in scale, the black monotypes have affinity with the black that assumed an important role in Matisse’s colorful paintings of the time. This is particularly evident in The Moroccans (1915–16), also on view in the gallery, which demonstrates the artist’s generous use of black paint as a means of unifying the composition.
In addition, the subjects of Matisse’s monotypes find correspondence in the themes he pursued in his paintings. Still life is explored in the monotype Fruits on a Moroccan Plate (1914–15) and the neighboring painting The Rose Marble Table (1917) (as well as in The Moroccans). The theme of the studio in the monotype Interior: Young Woman Drawing Fruit (1914–15) relates to the celebrated The Red Studio, which hangs on the opposite wall of the gallery.
This new installation offers a window into Matisse’s experimentation during this productive period. It is also an insight into MoMA’s increasing commitment to the integrated display of mediums, and reflects how artists in the modern period moved fluidly between drawing, printmaking, painting, and sculpture.