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.)
‘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.