Anyone could do it – Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs

“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?

 Icarus 1946, Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947 © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet

Icarus 1946, Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947 © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet

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

Nail to Nail

The National Gallery’s Veronese spectacle, opening this month, will include a host of borrowed works from abroad.   But what did it take to get them to London?

It is hard enough arranging shipment to the UK of the marble statuette which, while you were on holiday, looked so wonderful in its Italian showroom.  But as the storerooms in the National Gallery’s basement fill with crates containing Paolo Veronese’s 450 year old canvases, arriving from Spain, France, Italy, Austria and the USA, you could be forgiven for wondering how on earth they got to Trafalgar Square.  Except that one rarely does spend much time thinking about the logistics behind a major exhibition.  And rightly so, for curators have not gone to all that trouble (and it is a lot of trouble) for us to spend our time inside the show focusing on negotiations, shipping, security and insurance.  The eve of the National Gallery’s Veronese extravaganza, however, when one hopes that the scene inside the gallery is one of cool efficiency and careful stage-management, seems like a good time to consider what goes on backstage.

Martyrdom of Saint George (c. 1565), San Giorgio in Braida, Verona

Martyrdom of Saint George (c. 1565), San Giorgio in Braida, Verona
Picture: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

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