Using a long stick with a piece of charcoal attached to its end, Matisse sketched the composition of Acanthes on paper; a few of these lines are still visible in the finished work. These reflect the artist’s intention of creating a free and open-ended visual composition. Over the charcoal sketch he then arranged the paper shapes cut out from gouache-covered paper into a composition whose fascination derives both from its simplicity and the generous way in which the colored shapes are distributed across the plain.
Matisse limited himself to the three primary colors, yellow, red and blue, and their mixed hues green (yellow and blue) and orange (yellow and red), and left them a great deal of atmospheric space on the neutral white support. One has the impression of a dynamic representation of the processes of nature, an image of the elements, such as light and the wind that rustles through plants.
The title Acanthes can be taken as an allusion to the Mediterranean region, where the acanthus plant primarily grows, as well as to ancient architecture, in which forms based on acanthus leaves were a favorite ornament, particularly in architecture.
Credit: Acanthes, 1953 © Succession Henri Matisse / ProLitteris, Zurich