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Matisse and his Amazing Technicoloured Fabrics


Textiles surrounded Matisse from birth. He spent his first twenty years in the textile town of Bohain-en-Vermandois, during a time when rich luxurious fabrics were in demand by prosperous Parisian fashion houses. Artistic inspiration was somewhat lacking in the Bohain district but the seasonal textile displays revealing bold patterns and colour would more than make up for it.



By the time Matisse left for Paris to begin his artistic journey in 1891 he had already started his personal textile collection. Practically penniless, he would scrape together what he could to spend on frayed bits of tapestry picked up from local junk stalls. His relationship with fabric over the years blossomed; he was consumed by texture, colour and pattern. He would often spot textiles he could ill-afford but would go without other necessities just so he could purchase them.


Around 1905 Matisse had developed his own artistic style. Back then it was seen as shocking, such a vivid use of colour for salon portraiture – but as time wore on he was seen as the leader of the Fauves, a group of artists whose style emphasized intense colour and vigorous brushstrokes. Matisse believed that the arrangement of colours was as important as a painting’s subject matter to communicate meaning. He avoided detail – instead using bright tone and strong lines to create a sense of movement.



In the painting ‘The Pink Studio’ 1911, you get to see the environment that Matisse creates for himself. In order to kick start his imagination he decorates the studio with a range of fabrics and rugs. It’s this very insight into Matisse’s creative mind that this exhibition, curated by Hilary Spurling, is centred around.

From his early paintings commissioned by Sersei Shchukin to his cut-paper designs during his final years his inspiration from textiles is immediately apparent. Fond of bold colour and striking patterns it’s no surprise that Matisse has often been a point of reference for many textile and fashion designers; from Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent to Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood.



On Matisse’s influence Lacroix commented: “In my own work I am particularly inspired by Matisse’s expressive phrase about ‘drawing with scissors and cutting out colours from life like a sculptor carving directly from stone’. Matisse used this cut-out technique to assemble colours like a jigsaw puzzle. For me, this puzzle takes the form of a patchwork of different fabrics.”

A decade ago Zandra Rhodes produced some designs, which she called Matisse Leaves and Flowers and ‘Matisse Daisies,’ that were directly inspired by Matisse’s paintings. “It is not just that he was an incredible artist, but that he had a powerful feeling for pattern and colour,” said Rhodes. “Matisse has got such a strong handwriting that I wanted to capture that and use it.”



Matisse: His Art and His Textiles provides a rare glimpse into the creative life of one of the French greats as well as exploring his great passion for decorative fabrics. And if Matisse has his way then this exhibition is on course to inspire a whole new generation of creative individuals.


Matisse: His Art and His Textiles at The Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London W1. (020 7300 8000)


Ends Monday 30th May 2005


By JoJo Iles











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