Towards the end of his life, Matisse developed an entirely new form of expression, which can be viewed as the culmination of his efforts to produce a harmonious image in accordance with his idea of a “grande décoration.” Gravely ill and his motoric capacities strongly impaired, he increasingly concentrated on large-scale drawings in charcoal and paper cut-outs. Matisse reduced figures, colors and space to what might be called a system of signs. These he cut out with scissors from sheets of paper which his assistants had previously colored with gouache.
Under his supervision, the cut-out shapes were first arranged into images on the walls of his spacious apartment, then transferred, usually to canvas, with the aid of his closest assistant and confidante, Lydia Delectorskaya. In Matisse’s eyes, these images represented the perfect symbiosis of drawing, the establishment of contours; painting, the composition of colored paper shapes; and sculpture, to which the cutting of paper represented an equivalent.