Henri Matisse’s Evocative Prints of the Female Form

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Henri Matisse Patitcha. Masque 1947 Aquatint on BF
Patitcha. Masque, 1947Henri Matisse, Aquatint on BFK Rives paper

A new exhibition in London presents over 60 of the French artist’s sensual monochrome prints

In his statement-making 1908 text Notes of a Painter, Henri Matisse wrote about his struggle in accurately depicting the human figure. “I know that I must give it something more,” he explained. “I will concentrate the meaning of the body by seeking its essential lines. The charm will be less obvious at first glance, but it must eventually emerge from the image... (it) will have a broader meaning, and one more fully human.”

The French artist maintained a multifaceted practice throughout his decades-long career, which spanned Fauvist painting, sculpture, drawing and colourful cut-out collages. But perhaps one of his most recognisable phases occurred when, in the early decades of the 20th century, he turned his hand to producing prints which focused on the lines of the body.

He would revisit line in his famous cut-out works, too – in his later years, when his impaired mobility prevented him from moving easily around his studio the artist used coloured paper and scissors to create vivid, undulating collages. But where those pieces are bright and busy with colour and shape, Matisse’s lithographs, linocuts, woodcuts and aquatints offer a sparse, though no less striking, look at the human form in a monochrome palette.

An exhibition at London’s Bernard Jacobson Gallery spotlights over 60 of these singular prints, many of which have as their subject the female form. Many of his portraits seem to have been created with a singular confident brushstroke – the appearance of spontaneity in them belying the meticulous process they required.

Printing was a technique Matisse returned to throughout his career, particularly its latter half. And while Matisse Prints presents a more restrained aspect of his work than his oft-referenced paintings, here his female subjects, with their languid limbs, elongated faces and sensual poses, present a charm “less obvious,” but “more fully human” indeed.

Henri Matisse Prints is on show at Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, until September 15, 2018.