Matisse's Style

Matisse's Style


Cut Paper Collage

Fauvism was the first of the avant-garde movements that flourished in France in the early years of the twentieth century. The Fauve painters were the first to break with Impressionism as well as with older, traditional methods of perception. Their spontaneous, often subjective response to nature was expressed in bold, undisguised brushstrokes and high-keyed, vibrant colors directly from the tube.

When their pictures were exhibited at the Salon in Paris they inspired the witty critic Louis Vauxcelles to call them fauves(“wild beasts”) in his review for the magazine Gil Blas. This term was later applied to the artists themselves.

The Fauves were a loosely shaped group of artists sharing a similar approach to nature, but they had no definitive program. Their leader was Matisse, who had arrived at the Fauve style after earlier experimenting with the various Post-Impressionist styles of van Gogh and Gauguin. These influences inspired him to reject traditional three-dimensional space and seek instead a new picture space defined by the movement of color planes .

For most of these artists, Fauvism was a transitional, learning stage. By 1908, a revived interest in Paul Cézanne’s vision of the order and structure of nature had led many of them to reject the turbulent emotionalism of Fauvism in favor of the logic of Cubism.. Matisse alone pursued the course he had pioneered, achieving a sophisticated balance between his own emotions and the world he painted (

The Fauvist movement has been compared to German Expressionism, both projecting brilliant colors and spontaneous brushwork, and indebted to the same late nineteenth-century sources, especially Van Gogh. The French were more concerned with the formal aspects of pictorial organization, while the German Expressionists were more emotionally involved in their subjects.

Sabine Rewald
Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

Cut Paper Collage

In 1947 as his health failed and his dexterity decreased Matisse worked more and more with cut-paper, which became an increasingly direct method of image making. He produced very few paintings during this period and until his death from a heart attack in 1954. In fact he produced his last sculpture in 1950 and his last painting in 1951.

Matisse's enthusiasm for his new medium is expressed in his writing, "The paper cutouts allow me to draw with color. For me, it is a simplification. Instead of drawing an outline and then filling in with color-with one modifying the other-I draw directly in color...It is not a starting point, it is a completion."

In 1947, the year Jazz was published, Matisse wrote, "Cutting into color reminds me of the sculptor's direct carving." In fact, in the cut-out collages, Matisse combined his abilities for painting and drawing with his gift for sculpture in an unprecedented synthesis. Unlike previous collage artists who used found materials, Matisse preferred using new sheets of plain paper which were brushed with brilliant colors of gouache, a densely pigmented watercolor paint.

He would cut the shapes out, generally freehand, using a small pair of scissors and saving both the item cut out and remaining scraps of paper. With the help of Lydia Delectorskaya, his secretary and nurse, Matisse would arrange and rearrange the colored elements until he was satisfied that the resulting collages were perfect.

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