Matisse and Malevich at the Tate Modern

Over the last week I’ve been to see a couple of really interesting and enjoyable exhibitions at the Tate Modern: the art of Kazimir Malevich and Henri Matisse’s “Cut Outs”.

Malevich is a 20th century Russian artist, although he was born in Kiev, to Polish parents.  His art changed over time as radically as Picasso’s. In the first fifteen years of the century, his art mirrored many of the trends in the west dating back to the mid-19th century. Impressionism, Cubism, the idealisation of the peasant. The art was vivid, intriguing.


Self portrait


Woman on a tram


Peasant woman



Then he decided to create his own movement: Suprematism. It reflected what was going on in an increasingly revolutionary Russia, I guess. His big statement was a black square. Art “beyond reason”.

Er, Black Square

Well yes. From this point I find his art interesting but not exciting or pleasing. He went back to more representative art in his later life. And that was good too. I’m always interested in the thinking behind the art-not-art. And often amused. But my instinct with Malevich, in his Suprematist period was, pull the other one, mate. This disqualifies me as an art critic, I know!

Everyone likes Matisse, don’t they? Beautiful colours, Mediterranean scenes, fresh, airy, look great on the wall of your living room. Nothing wrong with any of that. Art is allowed to look good.

The Cut Outs represent Matisse’s later work, in the 1940s and 50s, when his illnesses rendered him pretty immobile. So he began to cut out paper shapes, painted in vivid colours, and assembled them – or had them assembled by his assistants. The shapes were shifted around until his vision was fulfilled.

There’s something quite child-like about this. Who hasn’t, if they have children, painted bits of paper and made weird pictures with them? It is raw creativity, that takes no expertise, no prior experience. And it is such fun!

Yes, Matisse was more sophisticated than this, and grew increasingly sophisticated over the years of the Cut Outs. His work was described as a fusion of painting and sculpture.  But the pleasure in the paintings is primal and child-like. I loved the colours, the shapes. I wasn’t theorising, like I had to with Malevich. It was just pure pleasure. I liked the way he got involved with churches, and his “Blue Nudes” period, and the fact that he made a design for some limited edition carpets, negotiated a commission with some rich Americans. This is exactly what the Renaissance painters, Rubens and so many others did. Arts has always had patrons, who sometimes just want something nice, or big, for their wall!

Here are a few samples from the Matisse Cut Out canon.

Henri Matisse - The Fall of Icarus, 1943

The fall of Icarus


One of the Blue Nudes


Two Masks – I imagined it was a man crying


The Mermaid and the Parakeet – spot them!


The Snail – think about it!

The Matisse exhibition ends on 7 September, so get in there if you haven’t seen it! Malevich runs until 26 October.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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4 Responses to Matisse and Malevich at the Tate Modern

  1. Resa says:

    Nice post! I especially love the Blue Nude and The Mermaid and the Parakeet.

  2. Charlotte says:

    Nice post! I went to see Malevich this week-end. Quite liked the artist. I found it interesting to see everything he had done before the famous black square. I saw Matisee a couple of months ago and positively loved it – from the art itself to how it was arragned in the exhibition hall. Bought myself a poster of the Mermaid and Parakeet, but of course it loks nothing like the giant version seen at Tate. Still, a nice reminder.

    • John S says:

      Thanks Charlotte! I bought a few postcards and the book of the Matisse exhibition. The reproductions never do justice to the originals, but at least they remind you how good it was.

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