In this book, Alastair Sooke provides compelling insight into the 'second life' of Matisse, as he himself defined the 14 years which he was granted quite unexpectedly.
One January morning in the year 1941, a few days after his 61st birthday, Henri Matisse lay in a hospital bed and prepared for death. The diagnosis – a tumor – didn’t seem to give him much alternative. Two operations later, Matisse was still alive and, on the contrary, now embarked on a new, extraordinary period of artistic output, conditioned by his illness. Now much weaker than before, he spent much of his time in bed or confined to a wheelchair, and he was no longer able to paint. So he worked out a way of ‘painting with scissors’, using large sheets of colored paper, cutting out shapes and then assembling them into a collage. Matisse thus created the technique of ‘papier découpé’ (paper cutouts), which he used to create art during his remaining years: Jazz, published in 1947, is regarded as the finest art book of the 20th century. But he also published The Creole Dancer, The King’s Sadness, and the extensive series of Blue Nudes. In the hands of Matisse, this new visual language became a means of expression in its own right: small pieces of paper were to become his way of ‘sculpting’ color, the medium which, until two days before he died, in November 1954, he used to express his creative thinking. A way of thinking that was exuberant to the end, and which, yet again, challenged more orthodox methods of expression, as he had already done with painting decades before. Because Matisse’s secret was not to give up but to transform the way he worked. And, of all the lessons that the master left behind, this was perhaps the most striking.