Drawings and Graphic Works
"I have always considered drawing not as an exercise of particular dexterity… but as a means deliberately simplified so as to give simplicity and spontaneity to the expression, which should speak without clumsiness, directly to the mind of the spectator."
"Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence."
"If I trust my drawing hand it is because in training it to serve me, I forced myself never to let it take precedence over my feelings."
Matisse considered his drawing to be a very intimate means of expression. The method of artistic execution — whether it was charcoal, pencil, crayon, etcher's burin, lithographic tusche or paper cut — varied according to the subject and personal circumstance. His favorite subjects were evocative or erotic — the female form, the nude figure or a beautiful head of a favorite model. Other themes relate to the real or imagined world of both Oceania and the Caribbean -- the lagoons, the coral and the faces of beautiful women from these far off lands. Still other subjects were inspired by classical mythology.
Matisse often made drawings to inform his paintings and sculptures, feeling that these drawings should be quick, gestural exercises that captured the form and emotion evoked in him by the subject. As the most direct expression of the artist's thoughts, drawing often helped Matisse to work out compositional and stylistic problems or new ideas. During the mid-1930s, he created distinctive series of pen-and-ink drawings on the subject of the artist and his model, while in the early 1940s he conceived his famous sequences of Thèmes et Variations, sensitively drawn spare works in elegant, unshaded line, describing simplified forms of female figures or still lifes. In the late 1940s and early '50s, his drawings become bolder, the contour line thicker, the forms even more simplified and devoid of detail. The latest large drawings of acrobats (1951–52), executed with a thick brush placed at the end of a long stick, are made up of contour only. They are contemporaneous with a cutout series of Blue Nudes, and the two mediums seem to represent two different approaches to form and space. The relationship between figure-ground becomes ambiguous and space complements the intended form. The form appears almost sculptural.
Matisse was also involved with printmaking for more than fifty years. From 1900 until his death in 1954 he completed more than eight hundred intaglios, lithographs, woodcuts, linoleum cuts, and monotypes. His attitude toward printmaking was a somewhat unconventional one in that for him it was a personal process, an extension of drawing, and a means of unwinding after long and intense periods of painting. As such, there were several distinct times during which Matisse was particularly active in the medium: 1906, 1914, and during the 1920s. In 1929 alone he made more than one hundred etchings and drypoints.
The intimate nature of Matisse's printmaking is visible in his working process. Unlike many artists who depended on close relationships with master printers in their workshops, Matisse spent more time on an etching press installed in his studio that allowed him to print when and as he liked. This intimacy is also evident in his choice of subjects, which were mostly portraits of friends, family, and fellow artists, as well as images of female figures and nudes, including a great number of odalisques made after a trip to North Africa.
Matisse's etchings and drypoints were executed on a small scale with linear fluidity, giving them a sense of immediacy and spontaneity, like pages in a sketchbook. Alternately, his lithographs were on a larger scale and made grander statements. These lithographs exploited the tonal possibilities of the medium that allowed Matisse to achieve effects of volume and depth.