Georges Matisse has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The paper cut-outs Matisse executed in the last decade of his life are among the most significant and revolutionary gifts to 20th century art, fusing the expressive elements of drawing, painting and sculpture within a single revolutionary medium. The cut-outs also represent the culmination and synthesis of ideas that had preoccupied Matisse throughout his career. As John Elderfield has written, “the distillation [that] Matisse…succeeded in creating in his late work was truly remarkable. It was the distillation not only of his direct responses to the natural world, not only the formal elements of pictorial art, but of the entire set of premises, both formal and iconographic, that had been cumulatively developing in his own art for some fifty years” (The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, New York, 1978, pp. 38-39).
Matisse first experimented with cut paper in 1919, using it to make maquettes for the stage sets and costumes of Léonide Massine's ballet, Le chant du rossignol. He returned to the technique intermittently throughout the 1930s, most notably for the background of La Danse, a mural executed for the home of Dr. Albert C. Barnes in Merion, Pennsylvania. During the same period, he also used cut paper as a means of experimenting with composition and color changes in major paintings such as Nu rose, 1935 (Baltimore Museum of Art). An operation for abdominal cancer in 1941 left Matisse seriously weakened, and he increasingly turned to work in cut paper, which was less physically demanding than other media. He produced his first independent cut-outs in 1944 and his first mural-sized examples in 1946; after 1951, he abandoned painting and sculpture entirely, and the paper cut-out became his sole vehicle for artistic expression. Between 1944 and 1954, Matisse made nearly two hundred works from cut paper, ranging in size from whimsical miniatures to dramatic, room-sized creations. Some of these were independent compositions, while others served as design maquettes for an extraordinary variety of projects, including posters, magazine and catalogue covers, tapestries, rugs, liturgical vestments, stained glass windows, and ceramic tiles.
Matisse cut these sheets with scissors, holding the blades wide open so that they sheared through the page rather than clipping. He then pinned the paper fragments to his studio walls, rearranging them until he achieved the right balance of forms and colors, and finally he glued the finished composition to its support. The technique combined qualities of all media, a fact that the artist repeatedly noted. “Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the color...I am drawing directly in color,” he explained on one occasion; and on another, “Cutting directly in color, drawing with scissors, reminds me of the direct cut of the sculptor.”
Executed in 1946-1947, the present work is an excellent example of Matisse’s early forays into the cut-outs, distinguished by its geometric circles and central black lozenge, resembling a playing card. The majority of the cut-outs from this period consist of rectangular sheets with a single or at least dominating image, sometimes paired, stacked or combined to form larger compositions. This group of works “shows the artist composing with extremely simplified cut forms which were adjusted into clear visual balances usually devoid of narrative intention” explained Jack Cowart (op. cit., p. 116). Lydia Delectorskaya further highlighted that this set of 13 paper cut-outs was a watershed moment for the later works: “this work that gave him the idea that you could draw expression from assembled gouache papers…Finally, he made a cut-out, The Lyre, a small thing, blue on white, and said ‘it’s my first cut-out,’ that is to say, a well-thought-out work, which he succeeded in investing with feeling. That was the start” (quoted in S. Friedman, “Avant la lettre,” Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014, p. 91).