Matisse’s paper works on display at Tate Modern

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Matisse’s paper works on display at Tate Modern

LONDON - A huge new Henri Matisse show in London is many things - bold, colorful, exuberant. It’s also a great advertisement for the creativity of old age.

The 130 works displayed at Tate Modern were created in the last years of the French artist’s long life, when Matisse - by then in a wheelchair - turned to scissors and paper, creating a series of ever-bigger, bolder and more ambitious cutouts.

The work of a man in his late 70s and 80s, they burst with vitality. They include the famous blue nudes - lithe-limbed female forms, cut in a single movement from blue-painted sheets of paper. The biggest works, such as the richly patterned “Large Composition with Masks’’ and blocky abstract “The Snail,’’ cover whole walls of the gallery with vivid color.

These life-affirming works were created out of a sense of mortality, by an artist who had undergone major surgery for cancer in 1941. Matisse died in 1954 at the age of 84.

“He felt that the clock was ticking, so to speak, and he didn’t have a lot of time to say what he wanted or to do what he wanted,” said the artist’s great-granddaughter Sophie Matisse.

What he wanted, she said, was to create three-dimensional works that leapt off the wall, driven by an “almost futuristic’’ desire to transcend the limits of canvas and frame.

Matisse initially used paper cutouts to plan paintings, illustrations and large works such as tapestries and set designs. But what started out as a planning tool - one he kept secret from the outside world - became an artistic medium in itself.

The show is the biggest-ever exhibition of Matisse’s paper works. Also included are the cutout illustrations Matisse made for the book “Jazz,’’ published in 1947. Among them is one of the artist’s most famous images, “Icarus.’’

The show runs to Sept. 7


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