“I could do that. Actually, my four year old could do that”. This reaction, found in a discussion thread to a review of Tate Modern’s summer blockbuster, sounds familiar. “A load of tosh”, “hobbykraft”; “junk”, “utterly insignificant”, and so the thread continues. Could the gallery have made a terrible mistake and opened a show devoted to the works of a nursery school?
Of course not; but Henri Matisse’s colourful paper cut-outs have riled a few. In fact these online cynics are rehashing some time-honoured criticism: that last hostile sound-bite was not punched into the ether by an angry Guardian reader, but comes from a sceptic in 1949, reacting to the paper creations Matisse had exhibited at Paris’s Musée National d’Art Moderne. It was the first time the artist had displayed his cut-outs, and the critic was director of the Cahiers d’art, an influential artistic journal.
It is doubtful Matisse is rolling in his grave. He predicted that reactions to his paper pieces would be mixed, anticipating in an interview in 1952 what critics and colleagues might say, “Old Matisse, nearing the end of life, is having fun cutting up paper. He is not wearing his age well, falling into a second childhood”. He may, however, have been disappointed that these accusations of childishness have persisted: when he remarked in the same interview, “… I know that only later will people realise how forward-looking my current work is”, he was presumably hoping that sixty-odd years might have been enough. Continue reading