Henri Matisse spent his final decades largely confined to a wheelchair, having been weakened by cancer surgery at age 72. But the renowned French artist didn't allow his physical condition to slow his prodigious output. In fact, he embarked on one of his most fruitful periods -- the cutouts, a series of paper collages that at first glance may seem childlike and regressive.
Matisse's cutouts are the subject of a major retrospective that recently opened at London's Tate Modern and is expected to head to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in October. (MoMA presented a massive Matisse retrospective in 1992.)
The exhibition features 120 works and is notable for reuniting the artist's "blue nudes" -- a group of cutouts depicting the female form using blue-painted paper. With the help of assistants, the artist also created a number of large-scale collages, including "The Parakeet and the Mermaid" in 1952.
Matisse's cutouts are in many ways the epitome of what cultural critics term "late style" -- a new creative idiom that some artists and writers acquire in their old age, as Edward Said once defined it. For Matisse, the childlike exuberance of cutouts represented a continuation of his fascination with boldly juxtaposed colors married with a pared-down, almost primitive simplicity.
The Tate's exhibition spans Matisse's work from 1936 to his death in 1954 at age 82. The show, which features works from museum collections, galleries and private collections around the world, includes Matisse's preparations for a chapel in Venice, Italy.
Dancers were a frequent fascination for Matisse and he created a scenery and costumes for a ballet choreographed by Léonide Massine set to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1. He was also a fan of jazz, and the exhibition features a room dedicated to designs the artist created for a book dedicated to the American music genre.
"Matisse: The Cut-Outs" is running at the Tate through Sept. 7.