Matisse used cutout style in paintings, too
Artists sometimes say one thing and do another. In 1945, Henri Matisse told his daughter: "Painting seems to be finished for me now.... In pictures, I can only go back over the same ground." But he added - foretelling a remarkable flowering of late work - "I'm for decoration - there I give everything I can...."
He had already started using scissors to cut shapes out of sheets of brilliantly colored paper and make "decorations" with them. These "cutouts" came to be known as his gouaches découpées or découpages.
But he did not stop painting pictures. He still drew and painted models, and - as "Young Woman in White, Red Background" (1946) shows - he did not merely go over old ground. This painting relates to the cutouts in its directness. The interior, with the relaxed young woman in a white dress, is reduced to color shapes. Her bodice is a significant heart shape, her facial features rudimentary, and her long skirt painted with understatement. All these shapes are sharply edged with swift black lines - as if cut with scissors.
Matisse lent this painting to painter Pierre Bonnard - a swap. Each artist admired but was mystified by the other's work. Bonnard's comment on the Matisse, according to Matisse biographer Hilary Spurling, was in "almost exactly the same words as Renoir had used before him, in front of Matisse's expanses of flat uninflected color ('How can you just put them down like that, and make them stick?')"
The model Matisse used here was Mme. Franz Hift, wife of a Belgian lawyer. In a letter to an old friend, André Rouveyre, Matisse mentions her: "She is pretty and has a delightful personality." Rouveyre and Matisse carried on a lively correspondence. Their letters are the basis of an exhibition of Matisse's later work at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, until July 17. With additions, "Matisse: a second life," will also be staged at the Louisiana, near Copenhagen, from Aug. 12 to Dec. 4.