Masters of Shape and Color Oceans Apart: Matisse and Calder

HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954) The Sheaf (La Gerbe), 1953 Maquette for ceramic (realized 1953) Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on canvas 115 1/2 × 138 × 1 1/4" (293.4 × 350.5 × 3.2 cm) Collection University of California, Los Angeles. Hammer Museum.  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody

HENRI MATISSE (French, 1869–1954)
The Sheaf (La Gerbe), 1953
Maquette for ceramic (realized 1953)
Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on canvas
115 1/2 × 138 × 1 1/4″ (293.4 × 350.5 × 3.2 cm)
Collection University of California, Los Angeles. Hammer Museum.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody

Last month I was lucky to visit MOMA and the Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition on a busy Saturday. I didn’t have a ticket and was helped gain entry by a lovely docent who could not imagine me coming all the way from Boston and missing it. She was right: this show was an important look into the last years of Henri Matisse’s life and work in the late 1940s and early 50s. The show includes a video of elderly, wheelchair-bound Matisse cutting shapes from hand-painted paper with large heavy scissors, with the help of studio assistants, who then hung the cutouts on a wall and hammered them in place to his exact requirements. In addition to finished works on paper, the exhibition gathered together sketches and paper drafts for commissions of stained-glass church windows and wall murals, providing insight into the origins of this work and his process. His classic, even iconic, blue figures were among the many pieces, along with his initial drawings.

Henri Matisse, Cut outs, Nice Studio, 1953

Henri Matisse, Cut outs, Nice Studio, 1953

A month later, I caught the Alexander Calder exhibition Calder and Abstraction: From Avant Garde to Iconic at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts with some good friends. These fantastical mobiles and sculptures were brilliantly mounted to emphasize the shadows reflecting off the walls in the gallery. We wondered at his feats of physics and marveled at the playfulness and mechanics involved. As we discovered, he used his degree in mechanical engineering well.

Calder was born in Pennsylvania into a family of sculptors and is considered the inventor of kinetic sculptures, named mobiles by Marcel Duchamp in 1932. The pieces in this exhibition were from the 1930s- 1960s, created in Roxbury, Connecticut, across the Atlantic from Matisse.

Both artists used curvy shapes (Matisse of paper, Calder of metal) that had me wondering about the parallels between the artists. While Calder did visit Paris in the 1920s and met Miro, Arp and Duchamp, there is no recorded meeting of Matisse. Of course, Matisse’s cut outs came more than 20 years later, and any influence is probably imagined on my part, but I couldn’t help but think that both artists were playing and created these bodies of work from a whimsical idea that grew into something much, much bigger.

Installation view of Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic showing Red Disc,1947 and Orange Under Table, ca. 1949. copyright  2014 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Installation view of Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic showing Red Disc,1947 and Orange Under Table, ca. 1949. copyright 2014 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

The Calder show closes on Sunday, January 4th, so time is running short, but if you happen to be in New York, you can see the Cut-outs until February 10th.

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