Henri Matisse Collage Wall-Hanging Debuted at Armory Show, New York

Katherine Arcano
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Henri Matisse, Océanie, 'le ciel' (1948) for sale at C|&|Co, NYC


Oceanie is a masterful, two-part work by Henri Matisse, comprising ‘le ciel’ and ‘la mer’; both pieces realizing the artist’s self-described “dream of….an art of balance, purity and serenity…”    

The pair of decorative, mural-sized compositions draws explicitly from ‘reveries’ of his 1930 experience in Tahiti, the exotic iconography of which would become the mainstay of his late-era paper cut-out, collage series. (‘Oceanie’, or the English, Oceana, is a term ascribed to a broad archipelago of  South Pacific Ocean and its islands.)    

Matisse at work cutting paper forms while bed-bound in later life


‘Le ciel’ was recently on display with Chowaiki & Co. Gallery, at New York’s Armory Show—it is a static vision of placid white, aerie forms, suspended in silhouette on golden linen, suggesting otherworldly figures against a sunlit Tahitian sky–visually channeling Matisse’s sensory-steeped memory. ‘Le ciel’ and its counterpart ‘la mer’, are seminal in the artist’s oeuvre, in that the screen-printed linen wall-hangings represent his earliest use of paper-cut maquette, Matisse’s most important means of visual expression through his final years’ work.    

According to John Klein, “In the mid-1940’s, Matisse’s recollection of the exotic nature of Tahiti and his technique of cutting paper to create works of art—two activities apparently unrelated to one another—came together in a broad flow of creativity (‘Zeitschrift’).”  The eventual production of Oceanie was the brain-child of London-based textile printer, Zika Ascher, who proposed that Matisse, by then in declining health, design a fabric wall-hanging.    

The artist’s creative vision demanded precisely the right material—linen specially-dyed to replicate the golden light of the Pacific. Adding to that his ‘new medium’ of ‘painting with scissors’, the resulting Oceanie set was a magnificent dreamscape, replete with a fanciful array of birds, fish, sponges, coral and seaweed. Thirty examples of both compositions were printed at the Belfast Silk and Rayon Company in 1948, each panel inspected, approved and signed by the artist.    

Matisse was delighted with the final silkscreens, which he described in one of his notebooks as his “very successful white and beige wall-hanging.”  He chose to keep half of the edition for himself and urged Jean Cassou, curator at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, to include the panels in an exhibition that he was organizing for the following year.    

At long last, Matisse’s creations had brought to life his memory of an exotic, shimmering Oceanie, very real in its vibrance, but articulated in a surrealistic manner. ‘Le ciel’ and ‘la mer’ were indeed a visual fulfillment of his most intimate reveries of that Tahitian paradise, now come true!    

by KathyArcano, Contributing Editor    


Oceanie, le ceil can be viewed at the C|&|Co, 500 Park Avenue, New York, NY www.chowaikiandco.com  or by calling 212.319.7333. Price: $ 2,500,000.


  1. Sam Ascher July 19, 2010 3:53 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    I love the article on Oceanie, Le ceil. In the almost 70 years since these panels were produced they have almost never been for public sale. A little known bit of information about the two Matisse panels is that they were done as part of a larger project by Ascher Ltd. and were commissioned alongside four designs for panels by Henry Moore. In edition to these large scale panels 51 leading French, English, and Spanish artists were commissioned to design 90cm silk scarves. There is a lot of information about this project on our website http://www.ascherstudio.com

    Best Regards,

    Sam Ascher


  2. Katherine Arcano August 11, 2010 5:46 pm

    Hello, Sam!
    Thanks for your kind words on my article in Artesmagazine.com. The background information that you provided on Oceanie was so interesting that I went on to visit your web site–very exciting!
    I hope to learn more about the Ascher Studios!

    Katherine Arcano

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