Henri Matisse Tha Snail

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, The Snail 1953, Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted on canvas, 2864 x 2870 mm. © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

Fun was the name of the game for the group of children sitting down on the floor with several sheets of brightly coloured paper. The mini- artists were having a wonderful time cutting and tearing the paper into shapes to make up their own creative compositions – their own works of Art! Hanging on the wall next to the children was one of the Art world`s most iconic pieces of modern work, The Snail 1953 by Henri Matisse.

I overhead an excited mother pointing out to her attentive daughter that the round pattern formed by the coloured shapes in the middle looks just like the twisting pattern to be found in a snail’s shell. Her bright young daughter nodded shouting, `Yes, I see it now!

Shape & Make Station

I was visiting The Tate Liverpool to see `Matisse in Focus` an exhibition of sixteen pieces of art work by one of the pioneers of modern Art Henri Matisse (1869-1954). The focus piece of the exhibition is undoubtedly `The Snail`, which had so captured the imagination of the young people sitting on the mats.

A bit of a coup for Tate Liverpool as the first and only venue outside of London to exhibit this iconic masterpiece. At almost three metres square The Snail dominated the exhibition space being the most significant and largest of the artist`s paper cut-outs. Made by cutting and tearing shapes from paper and painted by his assistants the colours are bold and stimulating. Matisse began working in this way after ill health had prevented him from painting.

Draped Nude Henri Matisse
Draped Nude 1936

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, Draped Nude 1936, Oil paint on canvas support: 457 x 375 mm frame: 580 x 500 x 70 mm. © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

His Draped Nude above was one of four painted by Matisse. In this painting with its simple brushstrokes and flat colour shapes Matisse includes the leaves of an exotic plant and flowing gown to expose the sensuality of the woman`s body.

Trivaux Pond 1916 or 1917 by Henri Matisse 1869-1954

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, Trivaux Pond 1916 or 1917, Oil paint on canvas support: 927 x 743 mm frame: 1132 x 947 x 93 mm © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

I found Trivaux Pond to be very different from the rest of the collection on view because of its use of dark colours. I always associate Matisse with bright vibrant colours so this painting was unexpected. Apparently his purchase of a car allowed Matisse to travel out doors to paint with his easel and he visited this landscaped park on the edge of Paris many times. The base of the trees disappear into the loosely painted water of the pond which merges with the reflections of the surrounding woodland.

Matisse said of the technique that it ‘allows me to draw in the colour. It is a simplification for me. Instead of drawing the outline and putting the colour inside it – the one modifying the other – I draw straight into the colour’

Cap d'Antibes 1922 by Henri Matisse 1869-1954Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, Cap d’Antibes 1922, Oil paint on canvas support: 506 x 612 mm frame: 718 x 820 x 95 mm.© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

Shown alongside The Snail were fifteen other pieces from the artists fifty years of practise including portraiture, still life and landscape in painting and sculpture. The exhibition was small but provided a unique opportunity for me to appreciate the range of works from the artist`s long and productive career.

Henri Matisse `Andre Derain`
`Andre Derain` 1905

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, André Derain 1905, Oil paint on canvas,394 x 289 mm © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

I particularly liked the painting Matisse completed of his friend and fellow artist Andre Derain while on holiday in the south of France together. His use of colours in the portrait such as blue and orange, red and green placed next to each other led some critics to label Matisse a `fauve` or wild beast. He has managed to the capture the shadow down the side of Derain`s face by using strong vivid colours. As a lover of bright colours in my own art work, I loved it!

Reading Woman with Parasol 1921 by Henri Matisse 1869-1954

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, Reading Woman with Parasol 1921, Oil paint on canvas support: 508 x 616 mm frame: 682 x 793 x 80 mm. © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2015

I first wrote this painting down as `Woman reading a book` but then noticed the reference to the parasol. In fact this painting has had several names including, ‘Woman reading’, ‘The Green Parasol’, ‘Lady at a Table’ and ‘Woman reading in the Open Air’. Apparently it was bought by the Contemporary Art Society specifically for presentation to the Tate in London. Matisse had never intended to sell the work but was persuaded to make an exception for a major museum.

Matisse  said, ‘The painting selected is the result of a prolonged effort and will represent me as well as possible – moreover I think that it won’t frighten the acquisitions committee of the Modern Museum in London’

In fact, however, it was turned down the first time it was offered in 1929 and was not accepted by the Trustees until 1938.

The arrangement of hat and parasol on the table forms a pyramid taking your eyes directly to the women reading. To me it is a painting which reflects a peaceful moment of solitude and satisfaction. The women is reading undisturbed and the colours help create a calm and absorbing moment in time. I wanted to know what she was reading! A superb painting of considered effort and a delight to look at.

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Albert Dock

Housing one of the finest collections of modern and contemporary art outside of London the galleries display some of the finest paintings, photography, sculptures and installations from both the Tate`s own collections as well as national and international collections. I spent another couple of hours walking the galleries sometimes peering out through the windows at the spectacular views across the river Mersey and former warehouses of the docklands.

Classic meets Modern – Holly goes lightly

Next in the `In Focus` series should prove just as popular and perhaps controversial when Tate Liverpool features `Emin in Focus` with one of the most celebrated pieces of contemporary British Art as the focus. Tracey Emin `The Bed` 1963. Exhibited alongside The Bed will be a number of other celebrated works by Emin taken from the Tate`s national collection. Another visit to Liverpool is planned!


`Matisse in Focus`

Until 2 May 2016

Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool, L3 4BB

Web: www.tate.org.uk

Email visiting: liverpool@tate.org.uk

Twitter: @tateliverpool