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Matisse: Drawing With Scissors

In need of culture fix? No need to schlep into the big smoke. Newbury's cool, new art gallery The Base has brought a piece of the London art scene to Berks.

Henri matisse cut outs lithographs The Base Greenham Common Newbury

Henri Matisse: Sorrow Of The King (1952) and Chinese Fish (1951)

A Matisse exhibition in Berkshire! Well I’ll be darned. It’s the sort of arty loveliness that you long for round these parts, but more often than not require you jumping on a fast train to Paddington to see at the Tate.

But Newbury’s new art gallery The Base – a modern, industrial space on Greenham Common Business Park – has grand plans to fill this cultural crevice with the kinda art people want to see. It kicked off with the National History Museum’s iconic Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition (a massive hit) and continues with Matisse: Drawing With Scissors – a collection of 35 lithographic reproductions of the famous cut-outs from London’s Hayward Gallery, including the infamous The Snail and the Blue Nudes.


Henri Matisse: Blue Nude with Green Stocking (1952) and Blue Nude The Frog (1952)

The French painter, sculptor and designer, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. He continued creating highly original works well into his 80s. During the last decade of his life, confined to his wheelchair or bed, he was unable to sculpt, draw or paint, so he ‘drew with scissors’, cutting into pre-painted paper created by his assistants (working to his exact instruction) and then pinned onto paper – transforming paint and paper into a world of plants, animals, figures, and shapes.

Henri Matisse exhibition cut out The Base Greenham Common Blue Nudes

Henri Matisse: Blue Nude Skipping (1952); Flowing Hair (1952)

The method Matisse devised looks simple, almost childlike, but the minute calculations of number, size, colour, juxtaposition, balance and position are meticulously judged. It’s an exhibition that is bright, bold and beautiful. On a miserable summer day like to today, it hardly does Matisse’s work justice. It needs to seen on a sunny day, with the smell of sunshine, summer flowers and a large glass of rosé.

Henri Matisse lithographs blue nude cut outs The Base Greenham Common

Henri Matisse: Blue Nudes (1952)

Perhaps the only niggle, is the scale. Lithographs, are never going to truly reflect the size, texture and inference of movement in 2D. In 2014 the Tate Modern exhibited the original Matisse Cut Outs in all their glory. Many of them are super-sized and it is the big format, vivid colour and the multiple pin holes created to put each cut out in its place that is missing.


Henri Matisse: The Snail (1952-53) and Memory Of Oceania(1952-53)

That said, it was great to see Matisse’s iconic pieces. Even in print form. The abundance of nudes raising a smile and the sight of so many Blue Nudes in one room is breath taking. Keep your eyes peeled for Zulma, 1950 – my personal favourite, it’s combination of drawing and cut out to create a vibrant female form; Blue Nudes, 1952 – Matisse’s late, great quartet of figures and The Snail 1953  – the Tate’s own treasured mollusc and my personal favourite.

If you get a chance, go and see Matisse – Drawing With Scissors. And the next time your kids grab the scissors and start snipping bits of coloured paper, resist the urge to scoop it in the bin, it could be a future masterpiece. *Coughs*. Now back to that rosé.

THe base Greenham Common Newbury Berkshire

 Matisse: Drawing With Scissors can be seen at The Base, Greenham Common from Sat 8 Jun – Sun 30 Jun

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