Henri Matisse (French, 18691954)
Watercolor and gouache on cut and pasted papers; 68 1/2 x 31 3/4 in. (174 x 80.6 cm)
Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.46)
© 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
During the last decade of his long life, Henri Matisse produced some 270 paper cutouts. Although they constitute independent works, many also served as maquettes for projects as different in scale and purpose as book illustrations or designs for liturgical vestments and stained-glass windows. During the 1930s, Matisse had already used paper models to help him compose his paintings. Then, after two serious operations in 1941 left him in poor health, the artist worked more and more with paper cutoutssomething he could do sitting up in bed or in an armchair. With scissors, Matisse cut shapes from sheets of paper that his assistants first had colored with gouache. These would be pinned into position and, once finalized, glued onto a white or multicolored ground. After the late 1940s, when the size of these cutouts increased so much that they had to be executed on the wall, he would direct his assistants as to the specific placement of the shapes and they would carry out his vision.
By 1951, the artist had stopped painting and devoted himself exclusively to making large-scale paper cutouts and drawings. Later compositions, such as this one, focused on larger, bolder, and more simplified shapes. Here, the abstracted "snow flowers" are a mixture of white plant and petal forms, placed against a patchwork of bold color. Although they appear to be wholly imaginary, one small plant growing up from the bottom center edge suggests that Matisse's title and his shapes were inspired by the snowdrop, a small frosty-white, bell-shaped flower that blooms in early spring.