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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.


lower right: HM 53/53


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

Exhibition History

Henri Matisse 1950-1954: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Kunsthalle Bern, 1959, no. 25, repro.
Henri Matisse: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1960, no. 28.
Henri Matisse: Les grandes gouaches découpées, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, Paris, 1961, no. 33, repro.
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.
Henri Matisse: Exposition du Centenaire, Grand Palais, Paris, 1970, no. 228, repro.
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.
Aspects of Twentieth-Century Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1978-1979, no. 89, repro.
Loan for display with permanent collection, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1986-1987.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2014-2015, no. 131, repro.


European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 264, repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 268, repro.
Matisse: La révélation m'est venue de l'Orient, Exh. cat., Musei capitolini, Rome, 1997: 248, repro.
Gilbert, Rita. Living with Art. 5th ed. New York, 1998: fig. 151.
Henri Matisse: Processus/Variation. Exh. cat. National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, 2004: 221, fig. 12.

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