Matisse

Across a crowded room 1

Across a crowded roomTo the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern. I read that he first used cut paper shapes to work out the arrangements of objects in his paintings, but when he made maquettes for the book Jazz, he found printing “removes their sensitivity”, and began painting paper then cutting it to create art works in their own right.

The exhibition starts with a video, showing the artist cutting paper so quickly, then Jazz is exhibited, maquettes and finished book. A queue forms to go along the wall, and people puzzle out Matisse’s text with our execrable French. Concentrating on this is a bit too hard for me. I puzzle out that Flying gives an experience the imagination cannot give, and something about Love, God and Freedom. The lithograph “Shapes”, with one protruding slightly outside the rectangle, offends my stultifying bourgeois sense of propriety- even now, in the Twenteens- and I have an idea of the gift Matisse gave; but only with that gallery glimpse which I have photographed do I really get the delight and playfulness of this art. Rather than the usual display, one art work at a time for proper contemplation, the small pictures cover this wall, and I am delightfully overwhelmed.

Christmas EveHe may not have been a conventional Catholic, but it seems he had experiences one might call God, and I would like to see the Vence chapel he designed- windows, wall paintings, and robes for the priest. Here is a charcoal outline of the Virgin and child, his arms spread wide for the Cross or in delight and welcome, huge stars on her robe. Those chasubles will be gorgeous.

Blue nudes IV, the first of the set, is painstaking, with many cut shapes arranged to form the art work, but the other Blue Nudes have one or two cut pieces. The Acrobats too have lots of pieces of paper: we are encouraged to imagine the body in the work moving and flowing as the body of the subject did.

The first rooms are the most crowded, and after I can sit with the Large Decoration with Masks, a low hum of conversation behind me, where just nine lines form a beautiful face: one line is eyebrow and nose, two thick lines form an eye. This is ordered and symmetrical. In the Parakeet and the Mermaid, things- apples, hands, fronds of seaweed? surround both. The parakeet is one curve returning to make a point at its tail.

At the end, my attention is again caught by that stained glass created for the Time-Life building in New York; but here the maquette is round the corner, and I prefer it to the finished work.

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