24 June - 1 August 1998

Henri Matisse

Aquatints, lithographs, etchings, linocuts and livres illustres

With co-operation of the Matisse Estate, the Alan Cristea Gallery is mounting a retrospective exhibition of Matisse's original prints.

During his lifetime, Matisse had several periods of concentrated activity in which he explored the possibilities of printmaking and during which the different printmaking media became his primary form of expression. In the late 1920s and early 1930s etching and lithography predominated. It was not until 1938, as he searched for the ever greater economy of line, that he turned to linocuts, and it was only in the last years of his life that aquatints became prevalent. These aquatints, in their directness and apparent simplicity, echoed, in a quite distinct format, his experimentation with cut outs and his lyrical decoration of the chapel at St Paul de Vence.

Matisse's first print was made in 1900 and his last in 1952. The exhibition at the Alan Cristea Gallery covers the entire period from his first drypoint, Henri Matisse Gravant through to his final series of aquatints.

'Henry Matisse Gravant' shows Matisse sitting before a mirror, teaching himself to etch. It depicts the artists exploring the intricacies of the technique. In later life he distilled many of the descriptive elements of his painting and sculpture into purer form. A piece such as Paticha Masque from 1947 shows how the gestural strokes of his aquatints echo those of the abstract painter, whilst capturing the individuality of the human face.

Matisse's printmaking was characterised by intense periods of activity. Between 1914-15 and in the late 1920's and early 1930's he turned to etching to produce a large number of works. Using an ever simpler etched line, Matisse created a series of intimate portraits of friends and female models.

The lithographs made between 1923 and 1930 are amongst the most sensuous of his prints and include many of the descriptive qualitied of his paintings and drawings. He depicts women in a variety of poses and settings and in a work such as Nu Renverse au Brasero from 1929, he created a dramatic perspective to enhance the eroticism of the pose.

During his career, Matisse used numerous media including etching, lithography, linocut, and aquatint, but he also worked with writers to create some of the most memorable illustrated books of the 20th Century. The most famous of these is Jazz. Using a stencil technique, Matisse created a series of images, derived from the theatre and circus. It is no coincidence that he called the book Jazz, a title which directly related to his search, through colour and movement, for a direct sensation in a printed form.

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