PRINT January 1978

Performing Forms: Notes on Matisse’s Cutouts

IN ABOUT 1949 HENRI MATISSE made a small paper cutout called The Dancer. It is a relatively simple work, not likely to be reckoned among Matisse’s major productions in a technique that had already preoccupied him for eight years. But it is one of the few cutout pieces in which he made deliberate use of a profile head. Alfred Barr pointed out that Matisse’s work in cut paper owes more to early 19th century silhouettes than to the Cubists’ use of collage. For the most part, Matisse avoided as too obvious the kind of facial profile that seems the natural subject and lurking inadvertence of the silhouette technique. Yet you cannot look at many of Matisse’s cutouts without scanning for hidden profiles. It is a temptation that the very technique of paper cutting keeps before your mind. I think Matisse must have been aware of this, and that his particular use of the obvious in The Dancer implies

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