Multimedia essay on Henry Matisse Cut-outs

Name: Hongjie Zhang

Course: AHIS3200

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Professor: Elise Windsor

Date: Apr 23rd, 2021

Multimedia essay on Henry Matisse Cut-outs

The works of Henry Matisse are among the most influential artworks of the twentieth century, whose stylistic innovations greatly impacted modern art. Matisse’s works of art can be traced back to the Fauvism art movement created by Louis Vauxcelles in 1905 after he saw Matisse’s work exhibited in Paris. Despite many artists abandoning fauvist art, Matisse remained loyal to the course. However, his adventures would later impact his artwork as he adopted the use of intense colors and black to his art palette. It is the appreciation of this new style that would later inform his cut-out technique in the 1940s. Following a cancer surgery that left him incapacitated, he started using paper and scissors to create paper-cut collages referred to as Decoupage. However, one thing is clear, despite the artistic transition in Matisse’s works from fauvistic pieces to cut-out pieces, his work is a clear representation of the appreciation of form, color, sculpting, and composition that will be discussed in depth through the analysis of some of his cut-out pieces presented in the Matisse cut-out exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The cut-outs presented at the Modern Art Museum are an indication of Matisse’s creativity in bringing to the people imaginations of certain environments without losing their form despite the way they were displayed.

Figure 1: The Swimming Pool (La Piscine) HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954)

For example, The Swimming Pool shows that Matisse was interested in creating a particular environment. Whether stack vertically or horizontally, the piece does not lose the form of a swimming pool as the piece allows for the forms to migrate within the entire composition retaining their form.

In the Women and Monkey piece Matisse plays around with different forms and blue colors placed on a white sheet to bring out well-thought-out pieces.


Figure 2: Women and Monkeys (Femmes et singes) HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954) (Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

Composing is a great part of the artwork. The different forms of nude women surrounded by seven pomegranates and two anthropoids further indicate how different forms can be included in one composition to create an aesthetically appealing piece.

In his composition, Matisse would sometimes come closer to achieving outright abstraction in his pieces. According to (Cotter par.6), abstraction does not aim to get the accurate visual representation of the real object but rather uses shapes and colors to achieve the effect. The Snail and Memory Oceania are examples of the closest forms of abstraction that Matisse managed to achieve in his compositions.

Figure 3: Memory of Oceania (Souvenir d’Océanie)HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954)

Figure 4: The Snail (L’Escargot) HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954)

In The Snail, Matisse uses different forms and shapes such as unequal rectangles and different colors (Black, orange, yellow, and magenta) in his composition to achieve a high level of abstraction (The Museum of Modern Art). Only a closer look at the Memory Oceania reveals a form of a hinted body in the shape of a white form that is bounded by blue forms, which represent the ocean. Such levels of abstraction require the viewer to really understand how form and composition interact to create abstract images of objects.

Figure 5: Creole Dancer (Danseuse créole) HENRI MATISSE(French, 1869–1954)

The Creole dancer is another example of a piece where Matisse uses form, color, and well-articulated composition to create an image of the fashion among creole dancers in the 1920s using featherlike forms. The Fall of Icarus is another example of Matisse’s work that epitomizes irregular forms and impeccable composition to allude to the myth of Icarus.

Figure 6: The Fall of Icarus HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954)(Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

The blue pieces on the side alluded to the fall of Icarus from the sky, while the use of yellow hues on the sides is symbolic of the heights that Icarus had soared (Cotter par.8). The composition of different colors and the irregular forms tell a tale that was close to what was happening in Matisse’s personal life at the time.

One of the most interesting characterizations of such form and composition is Henri Matisse`s cutout Dance (1909-1910).

Figure 7: Henri Matisse: The Dance (1938)

Figure 8: Henri Matisse: Two Dancers (1937-38)

The dancer and two dancers are a perfect example of a white cutout figure applied to a blue ground (The Museum of Modern Art). Matisse chooses crudely applied colors and an audacious nude form that gave the artwork a primitive character in the viewer’s eyes. Matisse chooses to depict the revelry using only three colors: red, blue, black, and green, which helped create a vivid, intense contrast. The dancer figures perfectly illustrate the sense of pictorial sign. It fails to illustrate the dance, but just like an ideogram, the shape reflects the traits that it signifies. In the illustration, Matisse aimed at creating a synthesis of primitivism with the energetic colors expressed nature and instinct.

Matisse believed that form is one of the most important aspects of art, especially if it is informed by works of sculpture.

Figure 9: Henri Matisse: Monsieur Loyal (1943)

The Monsieur Loyal is one example of a cut-out that was inspired by Matisse’s works of Sculpture. It is also not a wonder that most of his works and especially nudes contain forms that are simplified to replicate sculpted work. Another cut-out inspired by the works of Sculpture is Matisse`s White Alga on Orange and Red Background. 

Figure 10: Henri Matisse: White Alga on Orange and Red Background (1947)

Figure 11: Henri Matisse: Venus (1952) ((Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

For example, in his piece Venus the female figure is extremely simplified to a form that is a white paper placed between two blue pieces (The Museum of Modern Art). The Blue Nude IIIBlue Nude IV, and Standing Blue Nude are also another example that shows a great deal of appreciation of different forms composed to present a human form.

Figure 12: Henri Matisse: Blue Nude III (1952)

Figure 13: Henri Matisse: Blue nude IV (1952)

Figure 14: Henri Matisse: Standing Blue Nude (1952) ((Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

Matisse cuts out different body parts on painted paper, arranging them together, each in their one position to form what seems like a human male sculpture. In his composition, Matisse showcase an appreciation for color and how it can blend different forms to actually correct an artist’s mistake without the viewer noticing.

Figure 15: Henri Matisse: Blue Nude with Green Stockings (1952) ((Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

In the image, the blue nude with green stocking after cutting out the different forms, Matisse runs out of blue paper to complete the lower limbs of the pieces (The Museum of Modern Art). The art piece shows how he incorporates the green color in a blue mural to bring out the aspect of stocking. This composition is one that shows a lot of creativity that an artist needs to have in the wake of limited resources. In other pieces such as The Frog, Matisse uses color to create a contrast between his forms and the background of the forms.

Figure 16: Henri Matisse: Blue Nude, The Frog (1952) (Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

Figure 17: Green Alga on Black Background (1953)

Such a composition often resulted in images that were appealing to the eye at the same time, allowing for a visualization of the image he is trying to pass across. It could appear that Matisse delighted in using savage colors in his composition to create different elements of the same form.

Figure 18: Henri Matisse: Large Decoration with Masks (1953) (Retrieved from The Museum of Modern Art)

In the Large Decoration with Masks, Matisse creates a large piece with different colored flowers and fruits surrounding two large masks in white and black. Another good example drawn from the Museum of Modern Art is La Gerbe which is one of his lasts most impressive works. Again Matisse makes use of different colors in the composition of different elements of the same form. Matisse comes up with an art form that resembles multicolored leaves, which resemble a spray of flowers which allows him to explore freedom in the simplicity of decoration.

Figure 19: Henri Matisse: The Sheaf (La Gerbe)

The creativity can also be seen in Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952), which is one of the largest cut-outs. The cut-out was derived after long experimentation and the use of various colors to make different elements of the same form (The Museum of Modern Art). The exceptional use of color helped Matisse recreate the tranquility of the outdoors right in his studio.

Figure 20: Henri Matisse: The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952)

In conclusion, the formalist approach reiterates that while the artwork content might be commonplace or even banal, it is the artist`s treatment of the theme that transforms it into art. The cut-outs done by Henri Matisse represent his culmination of using formalist tendencies while placing emphasis on the form, which emphasizes each cut-out`s uniqueness while at the same time articulating nature`s essential structures. Matisse brilliantly uses form, color, sculpting, and composition to place emphasis on harmony and balance, which is critical to his vision of art as serving an ethical and aesthetic function that can be integrated into society.












Works Cited

Cotter, H. “Wisps From an Old Man’s Dreams (Published 2014).” The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos, 9 Oct. 2014, retrieved on 22/04/2021 from


The Museum of Modern Art. “The Cut-Outs The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 12, 2014–February 08, 2015.” MoMA, 2014, retrieved on 22/04/2021 from









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