Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Art and Nature: Matisse and Gouache Cut Outs

Polynesia by Matisse
Gouache is also called “opaque watercolors”.  It achieves these opaque qualities by having a higher ratio of pigment to water.  Also an inert white pigment such as chalk is added to the mix.  Gouache can be created by adding one part whiting to six parts pigment. Gouache gives a pearly glow and deep finish to paintings.  Also, when the paint dries, the light colors become darker, and the darker ones become lighter.

A famous example of the painting with gouache is the series of “Blue Nudes” (1952-1956) by Henri Matisse (France, 1865-1956).  The “Blue Nudes” are constructed from cutouts of gouache painted paper.  The cutouts were glued onto poster board, and then attached to canvas.  (The “Blue Nudes” are called gouaches decoupages.)  The “Blue Nudes” evoke movement and line as a united whole.  The vivid colors of gouache combine with simple shapes to produce art of arresting designs.

After Matisse had cancer surgery, he had to use a wheelchair.  Because of this, the artist changed his methods of creating art to accommodate sitting down.  By using paper cutouts, Matisse said that he found freedom in pure color and form to create his art.  For Matisse, the cutouts became his method of drawing on paper.  

First, Matisse’s assistants painted gouache colors on sheets of white paper.  After the paint dried, Matisse cut out fanciful shapes from the sheets.  Later he would place the cutouts into compositions.  He pinned them up on his studio’s walls.  After much experimenting, Matisse would settle on a design which then became a final piece of art.

Works Used

Boddy-Evans Marion, “All About Painting”,,,

Dabrowski, Magdalena, “Henri Matisse (1869–1954)”, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004,

Essak, Shelley, “All About Art History”,,,

Janson, H.W. and Dora Jane Janson, “The Story of Painting”, Harry N Abrams: New York, 1966.

---, “Matisse: Life and Painting”, Henri, 2011,,

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