Room 9: Blue Nudes

The Blue Nudes are perhaps the most striking example of what Matisse himself called ‘cutting directly into colour’. Here scissors both create the outline of the figure and carve contours into it. The paper’s flatness coexists with a sense of the figures’ intertwined limbs.

Cutting is a way of drawing and sculpting at the same time. These cut-outs can therefore be seen as developing from Matisse’s earlier sculpted nudes, some of which you can also see in this room, both in terms of pose and technique.

Matisse’s assistant Lydia Delectorskya described his work on a cut-out figure in these terms: ‘modelling it like a clay sculpture: sometimes adding, sometimes removing’.

Blue Nude IV was in fact the first of the series (but also the last to be completed). In this work you can see traces of Matisse’s struggle with the composition: faint lines of charcoal drawing and layered separate small pieces of blue paper. By contrast, the other Blue Nudes were cut ‘in a single movement’ from one blue-painted sheet.

Family activity

The four blue figures look similar, but Matisse made three of them quickly and easily from one sheet of paper, while one of them was the result of lots of experimenting. Look closely and see if you can tell which one. What effect did his experimenting have?

Download the full guide for families [PDF 535 Kb] and bring it with you on your visit to the exhibition, or you can pick up a copy at the exhibition entrance.