Posted on December 04 2020
In an artistic career shaped by illness, modern art’s champion of colour pursued a path of abstraction to nude posters and lithographic prints.
In 2004, Matisse’s Atelier Rouge was ranked as modern art’s fifth most influential work, behind only Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Guernica and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych. In terms of colour, he was arguably the most important, and yet, Matisse’s star has somewhat waned, his varied and ever evolving body of work never quite as edgy perhaps as Readymades, Cubism or Pop Art.
From Fauvism to Papiers Découpés, Matisse’s long artistic career made him a master of reinvention and enormous wall art.
Son of a wealthy grain merchant, Henri Matisse didn’t start to paint until the age of 20 when he was bedridden following a bout of appendicitis. The gift of a painting set from his mother would change his life, and it wasn’t long before he was studying at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, under the tutelage of William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. And inspired by Van Gogh, pointillism and colour theory, he rapidly became, along with André Derain, one of the vanguards of Fauvism, a brightly coloured movement that kickstarted a new post-postimpressionist era in painting.
It was this blazing use of colour that revolutionised modern art. And while Fauvism only lasted a few years, it shaped Matisse’s careful use of both colour and composition. 1909 marked another turning point for the artist when Russian industrialist and art collector Sergei Shchukin commissioned two vast pieces of wall art for his home, La Danse and La Musique. With a restricted colour palette and flattened shapes, Matisse’s large canvases – now residing in the Hermitage – were another step along the French painter’s gradual journey towards abstraction.
The journey towards abstraction, this vintage poster recalls the dancers and nudes of Matisse’s pre-war paintings.
Matisse’s mastery of bright abstract paintings was put on hold during the conservative years following the First World War, which required a more respectful sober type of art. But, moving to the Côte d’Azur, Matisse was finally able to revert to the colourful prints of his earlier years, remaining in Nice during World War II under France’s wartime Vichy Government. While Matisse was actually still able to exhibit, he returned to lithographic prints, collaborating with Mourlot Studios to create fine art posters of simple line drawings and paper cuts.
From simple line drawings to paper cut-outs, Matisse’s wartime work saw the artist pivot to lithographic prints and exhibition posters of fine art prints.
Illness struck for a second time in 1941, and again had a profound impact on the artist’s career, causing Matisse to turn to a new medium somewhere between painting and sculpture – paper cuts. It was a form he had played with in both 1919, with costume designs for Stravinsky’s opera Song of the Nightingale, and again in 1937 with the staging of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Following the earthy colours and underwater forms of Oceania the Sky and Oceania the Sea, inspired by a trip to Polynesia in the 1930s, Matisse published the artbook Jazz in 1947, which created a mythology of recurring motifs with the screenprinted blue and white forms of Icarus and seaweed shapes in Lagoon.
Snow flowers, violet leaves and blue nudes, just some of the recurring motifs in Matisse’s colourful wall art.
It was these quasi botanical posters that the Tate Modern Museum in London chose to honour with its 2014 retrospective The Cut-Outs. From the colourblocked The Snail to the colourful extravaganza The Parakeet and the Mermaid, the Papiers Découpés exhibition was a long overdue celebration of a much neglected master, who even at the age of 80, created fine art prints with all the energy of a young artist.
You can see more exhibition posters from the Matisse collection here.
Whatever colour print you’re looking for, kuriosis.com has a vintage poster for you.