These leaping, acrobatic forms are testimony to the remarkable crossover between Picasso’s late sculptures, which became increasingly flat and pictorial, and Matisse’s cut-out paper collages. Matisse never fully recovered from his cancer operation in 1941, and was bedridden in the last years of his life. Unable to stand at an easel to paint, he developed a way of making large-scale works using sheets of coloured paper. Picasso was clearly intrigued. Not only was there a direct connection back to Cubist collage, but also to his own childhood hobby of making paper silhouettes to amuse his family and friends. Both artists prized the unschooled innocence of a child’s eye, and here, sitting in bed shearing paper, Matisse seemed to be tapping into that freshness of vision, using the simplest of means.
Picasso’s first sheet metal sculptures date from the summer of 1954 when Matisse was still alive. The process he adopted, first cutting models out of cardboard before handing them over to technicians to make up in metal, was very close to that of Matisse. There are fewer arabesques and more geometry in Picasso’s sculptures, but the relationship to Matisse’s cut-outs is undeniable. It was a dialogue that both artists were fully aware of. As Picasso is reported to have said: ‘We must talk to each other as much as we can. When one of us dies, there will be some things the other will never be able to talk of with anyone else’.