The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Wanda de Guébriant.
Executed in 1952, Matisse's Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel sways with unrestrained verve and joy. This floating frond of seaweed dances with the energy of jazz, perfectly encapsulating the novel simplicity of the artist's momentous discovery of the papier découpé technique.
As the electric contrast between the red of the seaweed and the blue of the background shows, Matisse was one of the foremost colourists of the 20th Century. From the inception of his Fauve style, and even earlier, he had always shown a deep love and unique understanding of colour and its potential. However, it was only in his cut-outs that he managed to present colour in its purest form. Here, there was no need for the dark borders of cloisonnisme that had pushed his colours to the fore in his earlier works. Instead, with scissors and painted paper, Matisse could at last, as he described it, 'draw in colour' (quoted in J. Guichard-Meili, Matisse Paper Cutouts, London, 1984, p. 54). 'For me,' he explained, 'that simplifies matters. Instead of drawing an outline and then adding colour - which means that line and colour modify one another - I can draw directly in colour, and the colour is more precise in that it has not been transposed. The simplification means that the two means of expression can be united so precisely that they become a single means of expression' (Matisse, quoted in ibid., p. 54). Although Matisse continued to develop all the avenues of his art well into his final years, the cut-out technique provided the ultimate fulfilment and the goal of his lifelong artistic researches.
The themes that Matisse tackled in his cut-outs were varied, yet were almost always as exuberant as the means with which he now rendered them. Nature in particular appeared in these works, in all its wonder and variety. Here, we see the strange and exotic floral forms of the underwater dance-like motion, captured with beguiling simplicity and deftness.
Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel is filled with pure, singing energy and happiness, making it the quintessential cut-out, and the quintessential Matisse. This is reflected in the fact that, a year after it was created, Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel was used as the poster for Heinz Berggruen's 1953 show of Matisse cut-outs in Paris (a process that resulted in the faint seam visible above the signature). Berggruen had only recently begun his collaboration with Matisse, but was soon to become one of the most ardent advocates of this important phase of the artist's career. Indeed, marking the fiftieth anniversary of that exhibition, which had been the first dedicated solely to the cut-outs, a show of the Sammlung Berggruen collection of Matisse cut-outs was held in Berlin in 2003 - a striking testament to their enduring appeal.