Matisse in Focus? in Liverpool


We called into Tate Liverpool last Sunday to have a look at the latest exhibitions. One of the highlights at the moment is a small (and free!) display of works by Matisse on the ground floor. The focus of the show is the artist’s large “cutout” The Snail which is usually on display at Tate Modern in London.

The Tate’s website tells us

Due to the delicate nature of the work, this is your only opportunity to see The Snail outside of London, as this masterpiece will not tour to other venues in our lifetime.

I have seen it several times when visiting Tate Modern, but it was good for people outside of the capital to have the opportunity to view this iconic work. A pity, though, that the way it was positioned, directly opposite the entrance, and the reflective glass in the frame meant that there were significant reflections that distracted from teh work somewhat.

As well as The Snail, there were a number of other works by Matisse on display.

I was familiar with these two, which have been displayed at Tate Liverpool


Nude Study in Blue (c1899-1900)


The Inattentive Reader (1919)

I can’t recall seeing this colourful later work before


Draped Nude (1936)

And two works quite different in style with more subdued colours


Reading Woman with Parasol (1921) and Cap d’Antibes (1922)

There were also four large sculptural reliefs on display The Backs


Back IV (1930, cast 1955–6)

Although Back I had been exhibited in 1913, the series remained almost unknown until 1949–50 when the plaster Backs I, III and IV appeared in exhibitions in Paris and Lausanne. Back II was only rediscovered after Matisse’s death, while an even more naturalistic first version is now only known from a photograph. All were cast posthumously in bronze. (Tate website)

The patination (surface treatment) of these works was very dark and homogeneous. So it was difficult to see the detail. They looked very “flat” and were particularly difficult to catch on a photograph. There are better photos on the Tate website.

Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Britain

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs final weekend web banner

This has been the big blockbuster for the summer at Tate Modern. I managed to get to see it during my latest trip down to London after I’d finished work for the day. It was quite busy but there was no problem seeing the pictures. There were plenty of families with young children and with the bright colours and simple shapes this was an exhibition which was going to appeal to that audience.

Matisse was one of the greats able to create great works in all of the different styles and media he adopted throughout his long career. He turned to making his cut-outs towards the end of his life. Originally he used them as a tool to try out ideas or paintings, but they soon became works in themselves.


I was familiar with Jazz, the artist’s book that is quite well known and a copy of which which I’d seen at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool a couple of years ago, and posters of the “Blue Nudes” adorns the wall of many a bedsit and student’s bedroom. but in this exhibition I was able to see the originals. The three dimensional nature of the cut-outs became evident as some of the individual pieces of paper were layered upon each other.

Icarus, plate VIII from the illustrated book, "Jazz"

As he developed his mastery of the technique he created some large scale pieces which were displayed in the exhibition including The Parakeet and the Mermaid, Large Decoration with Masks, The Sheaf, The Snail and Memory of Oceania.

Henri Matisse The Sheaf 1953

A video playing in one of the rooms showed how he worked on these larger scale works, cutting out shapes with scissors and then getting his assistant to pin them onto the all in accordance with his instructions, moving them around as he felt necessary to obtain the desired result.

Many of the works are certainly very beautiful with their bright colours and simple forms. And it was a fantastic opportunity to see so many of the works which would otherwise be scattered in collections across the globe. As an exhibition I felt it appealed more to the emotions rather than to the intellect. The exhibition was much less challenging that the Malevich retrospective two floors up which I’d seen the previous day.

The cut-outs have a lot of similarities with stained glass which also uses relatively coloured shapes to produce more complex images and patterns. Matisse used cutouts when planning his stained glass for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence. and one of the rooms in the exhibition were devoted to this. But cutouts are no substitute for the stained glass themselves and to me this was demonstrated in the culmination of the exhibition. The final room had his cut-out prototype on a Christmas theme for a stained glass window commissioned for the Time-Life Building in New York together with the glass itself, illuminated from behind. The cutout looked dull compared to the realisation of his design.

matisse stained glass

Museum Berggruen

One of the highlights of our trip to Berlin was visiting the Berggruen Museum, which is opposite the Charlottenburg Palace in the West of Berlin. Although it was quite a distance from where we were staying, we were able to get there easily by taking the U-Bahn – a direct line from Alexanderplatz.  It’s collection is largely devoted to only a small number of artists, but what artists -Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Giacometti. They also have some works by Braque, Henri Laurens and Cézanne, and a selection of African sculptures.

The Gallery only recently reopened in March this year and I don’t know whether word about it hasn’t got out yet because it was relatively quiet while we were there – which was a good thing for us! The collection was so good it was, literally, breath-taking. One visit wasn’t enough – but it’s not so easy to pop round to have another look! But going back to see the collection is in itself a reason for a return trip to Berlin.

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The museum building is a former officer’s barracks which has been refurbished and extended, connected to the adjacent Kommandantenhaus by a glass passage. There’s also a sculpture garden in the inner courtyard.

The buildings have been beautifully restored, especially the staircase and dome in the main building.

(Image source: Archinform)

The core of the museum’s collection came from Heinz Berggruen, a Jewish citizen of Berlin, born in 1914, who had to flee Germany in 1936 to escape the Nazis. He moved to the USA and then, after the war, to Paris where he eventually became an art dealer representing Picasso. He built up his art collection which he eventually ended up selling it at a reduced price to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 2000 as a gesture of reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The museum has over 120 works by Picasso spanning his entire career from 16 onwards and encompassing all the different artistic styles he adopted. This meant that it was possible to see how his work changed and developed over his career. I’ve been to the Picasso museum in Paris a couple of times and was bowled over by their collection, but this was equally good if not better.

There were so many fantastic paintings that it’s hard to pick out favourites. But a couple of portraits of his lover, Dora Marr, particularly struck me. Although they were created within a year of each other, their styles are completely different.

The first is a classic cubist portrait, with distorted features and perspective, the face painted from more than one viewpoint and the childlike hands.

Pablo Picasso Dora Maar mit grünen Fingernägeln, 1936 Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 54 cm © Succession Picasso / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013 / bpk / Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum Berggruen / Jens Ziehe

Dora Maar with Green Nails (1936) Image source – Berlin&I website

The second is a much more traditional pastel and pencil drawing

Dora Maar with a Crown of Flowers 1937 (Image source Artnet)

Both are extremely accomplished and, in different ways, bring out the essence of his subject.

They had a few sculptures by Picasso too. One was just a little bird made from scraps of wood and wire. Very simple but very effective. A good example of how he could catch the the essence of his subject using basic “found” materials.

70 works by Paul Klee, again covering his whole career, including his time as an instructor at the Bauhaus. Prior to the visit to the Berggruen  I hadn’t seen much of his work, but the Museum have a large number of his pictures showing how his work changed and developed over his career that embraced expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. The works by Klee in the collection

… include mysterious, lyrical drawings like ‘Galgenhumor’ and ‘Den Fischen läuten’, both from 1919, which evoke Klee’s early affinity to Symbolism, as well as studies of colour and form such as ‘transparent – perspectivisch gefügt (I)’ from 1921 and ‘Nekropolis’ from 1929, which stem from his time as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Works such as ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939) and ‘Der Teppich’ from 1940, a watercolour painted shortly before he died, exemplify Klee’s later body of work. (Museum Berggruen website)

This painting “Blauer Berg” – Blue Mountain – (1919) was one of my favourites.

Blue mountain by Klee

This is ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939), one of the later paintings

 Paul Klee - A children's game in 1939.

It was hard to take everything in during the visit, but it has made me want to find out more about his work.

Matisse (1869-1954) and Giacometti (1901-1966) are mainly represented in by works from the later part of their careers. There were a number of paper cuts by Matisse including images from his artist’s book “Jazz” and

Henri Matisse, Die Seilspringerin, 1952

Die Seilspringerin (1952) by Matisse

There were several figures of standing women and walking men by Giacometti, his usual subjects. I was particularly taken by a small sculpture of a cat – almost a 3D representation of a Lowry stick figure – and an unusual subject for Giacometti.

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For once, I was so overwhelmed by the art that I didn’t spend any time taking photographs (the German galleries we visited generally allowed photography). There was so much to see that I just wanted to spend my time looking at the pictures and sculptures. So at the end of the visit I thought I buy a guidebook from the Museum bookshop. However, as we found out when visiting other museums in Berlin, they didn’t seem to go for producing the “best of” type books that are common in British galleries. They had a catalogue, which was pricey but good value, but it was a monster with a photograph of just about every painting in the collection and too heavy to cart around Berlin. Not only that, I would have definitely incurred an excess baggage charge from Easyjet if I’d tried to take it on the plane home!  And unlike the Tate and other major national galleries in the UK, the German National Museums (of which the Berggruen  is part) have hardly any images of the art works they own on their website. So I’m having to try and rely on my memory (at least until the copy of the catalogue I ordered from the Museum arrives – I caved in and placed an order over the Internet after I got home – it’s cheaper than a return visit!)

Matisse Artist’s Books at the Walker Art Gallery

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I’ve been working in Liverpool all week and on Friday, as we finished early, I called into the Walker Art Gallery on route to Lime Street station.

They’re currently showing an exhibition of artist’s books by Matisse, and it closes at the end of April, so I popped in to take a look. As usual it was free entry.

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

Like many artists, Matisse worked in different media and would try his hand with various techniques. He created around a dozen  “livre d’artiste” (artist’s books) – illustrated books published as collectible, limited editions. One of the first example of an artist’s book is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience which merges drawings with hand written text

Illustrations from four books created by Matisse are on show in the exhibition. They’re not displayed as complete books though, rather individual pages are mounted and framed and hung on the walls.

File:Jazz Henri Matisse.JPG

Cover of Jazz (1947) showing Le clown source Wikipedia

Probably the most well known images are from Jazz, which was published in 1947. Matisse created the images using the paper cut-out technique that he developed in his later years. The publisher then reproduced them using the “pochoir” stencilling technique. The same gouache paints used by the artist were then applied through the stencil to produce the highly coloured prints.

Jazz contains some of Matisse’s most well known images, including Icare (Icarus), Le clown, Le Loup and  Le Lagon.


Icare (Icarus) Source:

Le Cirque (The circus) Source

Personally I preferred the simple, effective line drawings included in two of the earlier books Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé,  from 1932, and Pasiphae, Chant de Minos published in 1944.


The drawings from Poésies, reproduced as etched prints, illustrate Mallarmé’s poem. They include portraits of Edgar Allen Poe and Mallarmé, and mythological images. In the book, Matisse attempted to balance the images and the text. Full-page illustrations were placed on the right hand page opposite the text, printed in 20-point Garamond italic typeface on the left hand pages.

, La chevelure [Tresses]

La chevelure [Tresses] Source:

, Hérodiade

Hérodiade Source:

, La coiffure d'Hérodiade [Hérodiade's hair]

La coiffure d’Hérodiade Source:

I thought the portrait of Edgar Allen Poe, which accompanied the poem “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.” was particularly effective. Matisse has used a few simple strokes yet has created an expressive image which captures the likeness of the American author and also seems to convey something of his character.

, Portrait E. Poe

Portrait E. Poe Source:

The images in Pasiphae, Chant de Minos (1942), a retelling of the Greek legend of Pasiphaë and the Minoan bull, are linocuts and comprise simple white lines on an intense black background, which are characteristic of this printing technique.

Pages 26-27 di Pasiphae – Chant de Minos – Source

Images from the book can be viewed here.

The fourth book included in the exhibition was Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans which was published in 1950. In this case the images were printed by lithography, which means that they can incorporate several colours. However Matisse has only used a limited palette.


This was my least favourite set of prints in the exhibition. The drawings mainly consisted of variants on the fleur de lis with a few sketches of people, which were much less powerful than those in Poésies and Pasiphae.  Images from the book can be viewed here.

Modern Masters on the BBC

I’ve enjoyed watching the series of four programmes on the BBC presented by the youthful Alastair Sooke about Modern Art. Each programme focused on one of the great “masters” of Modern Art – Picasso, Matisse, Dali and Warhol, showcasing their work, looking at how it developed over their lifetime and trying to explain their influences and connections and the influence they have had on popular culture.

Picasso (source: Wikipedia)

Sooke is an enthusiastic presenter and explains his points without being too preachy – although I’d agree with the Guardian review that suggested that there was “a touch of Blue Peter” in his style. There seems to be a trend for young, dynamic presenters on the BBC at the moment – we’ve also had Brian Cox, the “rock star physicist”, who seems to crop up all over the place, and Iain Stewart who’s presented a number of geology based programmes. Sometimes their enthusiasm can be a little irritating, but they clearly know their stuff, generally get it over well and may attract some younger viewers (not just old fogies like me!).

Matisse (source: Wikipedia)

I’m sure that some serious art critics would get sniffy and consider the programmes to be “middle brow”, but I found them both entertaining and informative. I’ve only developed my interest in Modern Art relatively recently and have a lot to learn and programmes like this certainly help my education. I found the programme on Matisse particularly interesting as I didn’t know much about him even though I’d seen some of his works in the Beaubourg in Paris, and was familiar with some of his better known paintings. The programme put these in context and allowed me to discover other aspects of his work. There was much more variety – his style changing as he got older – then I realised.

Pictures by Matisse (Beaubourg, Paris)

I knew more about Picasso and Dali. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Musee Picasso in Paris and the Dali Theartre and Museum in Figueres. In both cases there was a large collection which spanned the life of these artists.

Dali Theatre and Museum

The BBC has a website devoted to the series, which has some clips from the programmes, a “virtual exhibition” of major works by all four artists and links to places where it’s possible to see Modern Art round the country. They also have a series of “art walks” – routes around major cities in Britain which focus on public art including sculpture, architecture and other places to see Modern Art.