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A feature by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!




Seventh Art and Tate present:




Matisse in his studio at the Hotel Régina, Nice, c1952.
Photograph: Lydia Delectorskaya © Succession Henri Matisse


Broadcast Live from Tate Modern


Curzon Victoria

3 June 2014


Running at cinemas across the country through 14 June, 2014


“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost.” Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)

Newly opened, low key but plush Curzon Victoria made a suitable framework for this onscreen, HD exploration of the much loved, DIY cut outs of Henri Matisse, the first to be broadcast live from Tate Modern, where the acclaimed exhibition is staged. The works, drawn from the unexpectedly youthful wellspring of creativity Matisse drew on in the closing years of his life, during which he suffered greatly on a physical level, are a stimulating blend of originality and paradoxically satiated longing. The exhibition at Tate Modern, running until September 7th, presents a rare opportunity to follow these historically conjoined creations and their fascinating trajectory along what many consider to be the crowning moments of Matisse's artistic path, quite possibly as never seen before outside of the artists own lifetime, and collectively, the ground-breaking, oft iconic works seem ever more time transcending.

Having seen and gratefully luxuriated in the illuminating colour and inexplicable balance of the Cut Outs themselves, I took my seat with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation, initially soothed by calming vistas of the river Thames in place of the usual pre feature stream of commercialism. This cinematic foray, taking us through the origins of Matisse: The Cutouts, exhibition and, their creation, animated by insightful quotes from the artist himself, courtesy of Actor par excellence Simon Russell Beale, rare clips of Matisse at work and more academic, but no less informative for it insights, by Tate Director Nicholas Serota, presenter Francine Stock, actor/narrator Rupert Young, with additional information provided by art experts as well as assistants and friends of the artist himself, will be, at cinemas across the UK through June 14th for the art lovers' viewing pleasure. Though it cannot hope to replace an awe inherent actual audience with the works themselves, Matisse Live offers additional insight to those who've already relished the experience of seeing the exhibition, as well as close up, HD encounters for those unable to field the large crowds there. So much so, that as one former Matisse associate commented, ‘you can even see the pinholes where the painted papers were positioned and repositioned by his assistants, at his direction’. As I looked and learned, I could almost see Tate membership numbers increasing in tandem with my growing awareness of the importance of Matisse to the history of art. As the master himself stated:

The broadcasted portions of this film, brought to us live from Tate Modern, afford generous pauses before major, large scale Matisse works The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952), The Snail (1953), and others, offering additional insight into the creative history of each work. Yet at times, as the camera centrally moved from room to room, it appeared to wonder where it should focus next, though such lapses were momentary, as there were plenty of beauteous artworks for it to alight upon. The only possible drawback being that more frequent lingering on more artworks, however briefly, rather than maximizing details about specific works, may have furthered the onscreen experience for those physically unable to attend the exhibition, a factor I was more acutely aware of seated in an audience housing such viewers.


Henri Matisse (1869 -1964)
The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952
Stedelijk Museum
Digital image: © Stedelijk 
Artwork: © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014


That said, for all in attendance, even the most openly blasé among us, the excitement accompanying the mounting of such an epic exhibition was surely, infectious, as viewers were afforded exclusive glimpses into the varied stages of its undertaking, from thirty year dream of Nicholas Serota, to enthusiastically received reality. Slightly weathered, nonetheless amazing images of physically frail, creatively robust Matisse, gracefully carving into colour with his long shears, continually beating the odds against him, making works exuding youthfulness in his mid-eighties are extremely moving, as well as deeply inspiring.

Reminding us that Matisse’s influence surpassed even the boundlessness of visual art was Royal Ballet prima ballerina, Zenaida Yanowsky, who personified Matisse’s vibrant colour pallet and lifelong love of the art of dance, as multiple images of her, arching and stretching her lithe form expressively, moved across the screen in hues from the cut-outs, reminiscent of spring with their fresh blues, pinks, frond greens and youthful yellows. The performance reflected a ballet Matisse once designed costumes for to accompany Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 for which the artist attributed different meanings to each colour. Jazz Musician Courtney Pine, charged with accompanying a showing of some of Matisse’s iconic cut-outs from the series entitled Jazz, originally intended to accompany a book of poetry, rose to the occasion in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern with his trio on a piece he’d composed just for the segment.

Reminiscences from one of Matisse’s former assistants, Jacqueline Duhême, who’d painted sheets of paper as instructed, which he would then, cut into forms, provided the greatest sense of his everyday life and times, while Matisse’s great-grand-daughter, Sophie Matisse, herself an artist, MOMA Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nicholas Cullinan, Assistant Tate Curator Flavia Fregari, and other contributors, involved in the staging of Tate’s exhibition and/or absorbed in some way in the making of arts enthralling history, shed light on various aspects of Matisse’s life, process and intent by turns.

Seeing footage of normally bed ridden Matisse busily at work in his final years on his designs for La Chapelle Du Rosaire, in Vence, France, for which he designed everything from priests vestments to stained glass windows, seemed a metaphor for his entire body of work in that it was obvious from his focused, untroubled demeanor that the creative tasks at hand were ones of great joy, despite his long term debilitating pain, a fulfilment, the culmination of all that had preceded them along his artistic path. Things new, borrowed and blue aside, it was and is Matisse’s innovative creations that continue to resound, from their day, now and assuredly, well past our own times, and it was a thrilling experience seeing personal glimpses into his artistic world, however fleeting, and, the processes behind some of his greatest works, grouped among the most influential of the 20th Century and surely, the history of art.





Find your nearest Matisse Live screening:

Running time 90 minutes



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