Henri Matisse

Chester Art Centre to host an Henri Matisse exhibition

7 June - 9 July 2019

We are extremely excited to announce that Chester Art Centre will be hosting an exhibition of original prints by Henri Matisse in June 2019!

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was undoubtedly one of the foremost painters of the first half of the 20th Century.  He was the supreme master in those trends of 20th century art that are represented by calligraphic pattern and the abstract use of pure colour.

In his final bedridden years Matisse embarked upon highly original work using brightly coloured cut-out paper shapes (gouaches découpées), arranged into pure abstract patterns. “Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the colour…I am drawing directly in colour,” he said.  Drawing with scissors – cutting shapes from paper he had pre-painted – meant that the contour of a shape and its internal area were formed simultaneously.  The colours he used in his cut-outs were often so strong that his doctor advised him to wear dark glasses

In earlier years Matisse had made the acquaintance of Fernand Mourlot, owner of the great firm of French lithographers Mourlot Frères.  He was therefore delighted when the French art entrepreneur, Monsieur Tériade suggested that the craftsmen at Mourlot’s should reinterpret the cut-outs as lithographs.  A suite of thirty-nine images was printed from the stone blocks at the atelier.  The precise edition size is not known but they are now comparatively scarce.

Matisse considered these his new way of painting, he said:

       Scissors can acquire more feeling for line than pencil or charcoal...

A French painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and designer.  From c.1920 he enjoyed an international reputation as, with Picasso, the foremost painter of his time, and he was the supreme master in those trends in 20th century art, which are represented by calligraphic pattern and the abstract use of pure colour.

From 1917 he spent much of his time on the Riviera, mainly at Nice and Venice.  The luxuriously sensual works he painted there – odalisques, still lives of tropical fruits and flowers, and glowing interiors – are irradiated with the strong sun and rich colours of the south.  Following two major operations for duodenal cancer in 1941, Matisse was confined to bed or a wheelchair, but he worked until the end of his life.

In his bed-ridden final years Matisse also embarked on another kind of highly original work, using brightly coloured cut-out paper shapes (gouaches découpées) arranged into purely abstract patterns (L’Escargot, Tate, London, 1953).  The colours he used in his cut-outs were often so strong that his doctor advised him to wear dark glasses.  They must rank among the most joyous works ever created by an artist in old age.

Matisse personally directed and supervised the first 'pulls' of the coloured lithographs during 1954 in collaboration with the renowned lithographers Mourlot Freres of Paris. The printers, founded in 1921, worked with many of the great artists of the 20th century, including Picasso, Vlaminck, Bonnard, Dufy, Miro etc.

Throughout his long artistic career Matisse was active as a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, printmaker and designer.  Along with Picasso he is often regarded as the foremost artist of his time and in his paintings and prints renowned for his abstract use of pure colour and calligraphic patterns.

As a printmaker Matisse was diverse and prolific in his output, producing 825 images in total.  These comprised 305 lithographs, 316 etchings and drypoints, 62 aquatints, 70 linogravures, 68 monotypes and 4 wood engravings.

Unlike many of his great contemporaries, Matisse did not attempt to express in his work the troubled times through which he lived.  He wrote, what I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter … like a comforting influence, a mental balm - something like a good armchair in which one rests from physical fatigue.