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Matisse’s cut-outs: A new art form

The famous artist overcame grave illness to forge a brave new direction in modern art. Alastair Sooke explains the power and the meaning of Matisse’s late works.

In 1941, Matisse survived a life-threatening battle with intestinal cancer. Against all odds, and confined to a wheelchair, he began a life-affirming and joyful series that replaced the paintbrush with a pair of scissors: the cut-outs.

They are now the most-celebrated of all of Matisse’s artworks, but at the time, many considered the cut-outs to be decorative, infantile even, with one critic viciously describing them as ‘papered jokes’.

As the Tate Modern in London opens its summer exhibition to celebrate the cut-outs, The Culture Show’s Alastair Sooke reveals why he believes they are the most revealing artworks Matisse ever made. He takes a look at Jazz, a collection of reproductions, and explains why these vibrant, graphic images pre-date Pop art by a decade.

He also visits the spectacular Chapel of the Rosary, located near Matisse’s villa in the south of France. The artist designed every last detail, from the monumental stained glass windows right down to the colourful vestments worn by the priests, employing the simplicity and honesty that characterises his later work – to breathtaking effect.

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