NICE, France – For the last 13 years of his life, Henri Matisse sat in a wheelchair, cutting paper into simple forms like a child would. By the time he died in Nice in 1954 at age 84, Matisse was internationally recognized as one of the fathers of modern art.
“When someone does something … with great level of skill, it looks easy,” said Mark Winter, an authentication specialist for Art Experts in Chicago.
In Nice where Matisse resided for a majority of the time from 1917-1954, his simplicity and color live on in many of today’s art galleries that produce Matisse knockoffs.
Winter said the Art Experts organization gets about 30 Matisse imitations a year and fewer than 10 percent are authentic. He said the “elegance” of Matisse is “deceptively simple” but very difficult to imitate.
The authentication process includes a technical analysis, which compares the composition, style, and techniques of the work to works known to be authentic; placement on the canvas, type of brush stroke (e.g., thick or thin, vertical or horizontal) and quality of the art supplies (paint, canvas, paper) are among the characteristics compared. Winter said it is common for an artist’s style to evolve over time.
Sébastien Di Natale, a Niçois artist who sells Matisse knockoffs to help support his own art, said because of this evolution, assumptions cannot be made about an artist based on one work; you must see a range of work from a range of time periods.
Matisse began his career with realistic, still life paintings of objects and humans. It was not until 1941, at age 71, that he began to create the cutouts.
Some of Matisse’s works, the cutouts in particular, look like a child could make them, but Matisse’s process and quality of supplies are important, Di Natale said. “All artists have a little Matisse in them.”
Di Natale said the persistence of Matisse’s process is what is valuable. Matisse created many versions of each piece before he reached what he was looking for. In fact, in 2012, relatives of Matisse donated to the Matisse Museum in Nice around 400 cutout scraps Matisse never used in final works.
Nice-based artist Paulin Nikolli said he thinks complexities in art can actually be limiting and a childlike mind-set allows an artist more freedom.
Nikolli praised Matisse’s use of light and color. He pointed to one of his own paintings, a mostly blue work, and said, “This is like Matisse.”
Warren Cohen, a first-time visitor to the Matisse Museum in Nice, said he was drawn there because of his link to the Matisse collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art in his hometown.
Cohen said he was interested in Matisse’s progress over time, from painting human forms to creating the cutouts. He described the cutouts not as simple or childlike but as “fantastic, colorful and abstract.”
For Matisse himself, it was not his realistic landscapes, the bold portraits or the colorful cutouts that he liked best. It was the simple, primary colors and naturalistic shapes of The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, about 20 miles northwest of Nice.
“This work required four years of exclusive assiduous work, and its the result of my entire active life,” Matisse said shortly before his death. “Despite all it’s imperfections, I consider it to be my chef d’oeuvre.”