Overview

During the last fifteen years of his life Matisse developed his final artistic triumph by "cutting into color." First, his studio assistants would brush opaque and semi-transparent watercolor pigments onto small sheets of white paper. The artist would then cut the sheets freehand in bold shapes that would be pinned to the white studio walls, adjusted, recut, combined and recombined with other elements. Later, the elements were glued flat to large white paper backgrounds for shipping or display.

Large Composition with Masks, the largest of Matisse's cutouts, was originally conceived as a full-scale preliminary study for a ceramic mural. It is architectural in scale, symmetrical in structure. Columns at either side enclose a composition of rosettes arranged in groups of four, that form a grid pattern across the nearly thirty-three-foot expanse.

If the design of Large Composition with Masks is relatively static, that is compensated by a lively distribution of color. Bright, vivid tones, profiled against the white ground, are dispersed across the surface. They keep the viewer's eye moving, engaged in a composition of paradoxically ordered calm and dynamic energy.

Inscription

lower right: HM 53/53

Provenance

Jean Gérard Matisse [1899-1976] and Contemporary Art Establishment; sold May 1973 through (Frank Perls, Beverly Hills) to NGA.

Exhibition History
1959
Henri Matisse 1950-1954: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Kunsthalle Bern, 1959, no. 25, repro.
1960
Henri Matisse: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1960, no. 28.
1961
Henri Matisse: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, Paris, 1961, no. 33, repro.
1961
The Last Works of Henri Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Art, no. 28, repro.
1970
Henri Matisse: Exposition du Centenaire, Grand Palais, Paris, 1970, no. 228, repro.
1977
Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, National Gallery of Art, Washington; The Detroit Institute of Arts; The St. Louis Art Museum, 1977-1978, no. 203, repro.
1978
Aspects of Twentieth-Century Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978-1979, no. 89, repro.
1986
Loan for display with permanent collection, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1986-1987.
Bibliography
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 264, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 268, repro.
1997
Matisse: La révélation m'est venue de l'Orient, Exh. cat., Musei capitolini, Rome, 1997: 248, repro.
1998
Gilbert, Rita. Living with Art. 5th ed. New York, 1998: fig. 151.
2004
Henri Matisse: Processus/Variation. Exh. cat. National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 2004: 221, fig. 12.