Lot 110
  • 110

Henri Matisse

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Henri Matisse
  • Signed H. Matisse (lower right)
  • Gouache on cut paper pasted on paper support and mounted on canvas
  • Sheet: 14 1/2 by 21 in.
  • 36.9 by 53.4 cm


Jean Matisse, France
Private Collection, London
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Acquired from the above in 1982


Aix-en-Provence, Pavillon de Vendôme, Matisse, 1960, no. 72
Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Exposition Henri Matisse: Peintures, dessins, gouaches, sculptures et gravures, 1961, no. 167


Henri Matisse: Les Grandes Gouaches Découpées (exhibition catalogue), Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1961, illustrated in a photograph of the artist's studio p. 45
Georges Duthuit, “Matisse’s Illuminations,” Portfolio & Art News Annual No. 5, New York, 1962, illustrated p. 99
Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Detroit Institute of Arts; The St. Louis Art Museum, 1977-78, no. 103, ilustrated p. 161
John M. Jacobus, Henri Matisse, New York, 1983, illustrated in a photograph of the artist's studio p. 45
Henri Matisse: Zeichnungen und Gouache Découpées (exhibition catalogue), Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1993-94, illustrated p. 263

Catalogue Note

The cut-outs of Henri Matisse not only represent the culmination and synthesis of his career, but are among the most significant and revolutionary developments in 20th century art. Much as Titian and Rembrandt before him, Matisse found a renewed vigor in old age that led him to make the most radical and significant break in the development of his art in forty years.  The present work, which the artist created in 1949-50, demonstrates how this medium enabled him to evoke a sensation of vitality and vibrant energy with the use of pure color.


Matisse had worked with cut paper occasionally in the 1930s in conjunction with his painting compositions and decorative projects. While working on the murals for the Barnes Foundation – Dance I and Dance II – Matisse found that the use of sheets of paper enabled him to work out compositional problems without having to scrape out and paint over. But it was not until the early 1940s, while recuperating from surgery at his studio in Vence, that he developed the cut-outs into an artform of their own (see fig. 1). With this practice of cutting shapes out of colored paper and pasting them onto a paper support, the artist realized that he had discovered a truly revolutionary means for artistic expression. Although he would eventually execute his cut-outs in large, lifesize formats in the later half of the decade, he opted for a more intimate scale for his earlier work that suited his desire for a more personal artistic experience.


Matisse explained the philosophy behind the cut-outs and the satisfaction he derived from executing them to André Léjard in 1951: “The cut-out paper allows me to draw in color. It is a simplification. Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the color – in which case one modified the other – I am drawing directly in color, which will be the more measured as it will not be transposed. This simplification ensures an accuracy in the union of two means …. It is not a starting point but a culmination” (quoted in Henri Matisse, Paper Cut-Outs (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Detroit Institute of Arts; The St. Louis Art Museum, 1977-78, p. 17).

Matisse often used his paper cut-outs as maquettes for a wide variety of designs for works or objects in other media, including murals, stage designs, ballet costumes, books, magazine and catalogue covers, illustrations and posters. A cover for Cahiers d’Art, 3-5 of 1936 was the first of many such commissions. The full range of possibilities for this medium was suggested to Matisse in 1943 when he received a commission from the publisher E. Tériade for an illustrated book entitled Jazz that would finally be published in 1947.  


Les quatre rosaces aux motifs bleus is said to have been designed originally for a book cover, but the artist kept it instead as an independent composition.  In a photograph from the 1950s, this work appears hanging on the wall of his studio (see fig. 2).  As he did in several of the other works that he completed around the same time, Matisse focuses here on the shapes of flowers and elevates them from merely decorative objects to emblems of modern style.  These creations would inspire future artists such as Andy Warhol, who also used flowers as a subject in his compositions from the 1960s (see fig. 3).

Matisse’s cut-outs are extraordinary in that they combine the characteristics of painting, drawing and sculpture as never before. For these works, the artist distilled over fifty years of knowledge and experience and, for the first time, spontaneously expressed himself in the free movement of the scissors on paper without the use of a model for visual reference. The greatest paper cut-outs in fact, although figural, verge on the abstract. They are the only works in Matisse’s oeuvre in which the subject and the objects are not immediately recognizable, where the viewer must decipher the artist’s signs and symbols. As Matisse himself once said, “…with something more of the abstract and the absolute, I have arrived at a distillation of form… Of this or that object which I used to keep present in all of its complexity in space, I now keep only the sign which suffices, necessary for its existence in its own form, for the composition as I conceive it” (quoted in Monroe Wheeler, The Last Work of Henri Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches, New York, 1961-62, p. 10).


Fig. 1, The artist working on a book cover in his Paris studio in 1951

Fig. 2.  The present work hanging on the wall of the artist's studio in 1953 

Fig. 3,  Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1964, stencil print on canvas, Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna