Matisse’s cut-outs “have been taken for the last hobby of a crippled old man, whereas they are… ‘the end-product of an entire life of work and the flowering of an enormous, sincere and difficult effort’…” I agree with the latter. And that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I really love Matisse’s work and this final period of his life is my absolute favorite. I consider them to be the ultimate synthesis of form and color with a hint of symbolism – which is something I strive to achieve in my own work.
The author of the book is Gilles Néret. I enjoyed his commentary, it was sufficient, although not very detailed nor especially interesting. I wish there was more depth, more information and more storytelling but I realize this is not that kind of book. The book was originally published in 1994 by Taschen. The one I have is a paperback from 2014. There is quite a few editions actually and it’s a little confusing. The paper quality is great as is the print. All of Taschen books are amazing as to the presentation quality in my experience. This particular edition is only 18.5 x 23 cm which is a bit too small. It’s not the smallest but still the reproduction size is quite limited – although I have to give it to Taschen, they did a great job in making the most of the limited space. Most of the works are a full page reproductions and those smaller ones are still very enjoyable.
Throughout the book the author comments on certain works or series of works. His remarks are very brief. He is not looking for more meaning than there is. I like that. There is symbolism in many of Matisse’s cut-outs whereas others are just the opposite, they aim simply to decorate. This book is not about clarifying the what and why, the meaning of the individual works. It’s just as simple as the title says, ‘Henri Matisse: Cut-outs’. It’s a collection. There is some guidance to walk you through this wonderful collection but that’s it. That being said, the book itself it’s very well put together. The works are presented chronologically which works really well as you can see the progression of the earliest cut-outs to the more complex and developed later works. The work itself you either love or hate I guess and so it’s up to you if you appreciate the book for what it presents in the first place.
For me, the book is very inspiring – a true reference book where, from time to time, I go and fish for ideas. So, the only thing left is to recommend you to pick it up and give it a read. I really like Matisse’s earlier work but not as much as I adore his latest triumph, the cut-outs.