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Running with Death, and Scissors

Post #1669 • March 31, 2014, 7:09 AM

[Image: Henri Matisse: The Fall of Icarus (1947). Henri Matisse/DACS 2014]

Henri Matisse: The Fall of Icarus (1947). Henri Matisse/DACS 2014

Hilary Spurling writes about the upcoming Matisse cutouts exhibition at the Tate.

Matisse had given his life to projecting an inner reality strong enough to withstand the competing claims of the external world. Now the seagulls he had watched circling the sewage outlet on the Nice seafront, the doves that once flew freely in his studio, were internalised in the sensation of flight that drove the path of his scissor-blades. Forests of red, blue, black and ochre fronds sprang up around him. When a girl from the local Opéra came to dance for him, he captured her movement as a flash of swirling colour like the flick of a fan in Creole Dancer. He sketched a garden snail, holding it between thumb and forefinger, and recreating it afterwards in the vast shell-shaped spiral of coloured blocks that make up the Tate's mural, The Snail. Nothing could stop him. His eyes gave out (the optician said his retina could not keep up with the pace at which his brain processed colour), his hands swelled up, weakness shortened his days, pain and delirium swallowed the nights. More than one of his young assistants reached the verge of collapse, but all of them agreed in retrospect that the atmospheric tension of Matisse's studio had been as exhilarating as it was exhausting. "It was a race," said another of them, "an endurance course that he was running with death."

Hat tip: Kyle Gallup.

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