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.