The Artwork (© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2020)
Matisse’s back is one of the most extraordinary sculptural series of the 20th century. The first ‘back’ was made by Matisse around 1909-10, 110 years ago! It shows a natural figure which is progressively simplified over the following years. It was not, however a move towards abstraction. His work was always based on nature including the human body but focusing on the essential forms. Another good example for this is ‘The Snail’ from 1953 (below). This collage achieves a perfect balance between colours (primary and secondary colours) and the essential structure of the snail. At this time he was bedridden and severely effected by arthritis. He was barely able to paint let alone sculpturing. He was, however, able to tear or cut out the pieces of paper and directed his assistants to place them on the canvas. He claimed that tearing out the paper gave him the same pleasure as sculpturing.
The backs were made over a period of over 20 years (back IV in 1930) and followed his artistic development . He took the first back some years after it was created, made alterations with clay, took a cast and produced a new version. This process was repeated for all later versions and represents a form of artistic evolution.
There are only few galleries which have all 4 backs in their collection
(TATE Gallery, London, UK)