In order to gain an understanding of the characteristics and technique of a work of art, restorers often attempt to precisely reconstruct the process of its execution. In the case of Henri Matisse's papiers découpés, the working steps range from painting the papers with gouache, to cutting out and arranging the forms and mounting the composition with adhesive on canvas.
A detailed description of this mounting process, provided by Matisse's assistant Lydia Delectorskaya, was used as a guideline.
By reconstructing the execution of the papiers découpés, important pointers were obtained. Traces found in the work largely resulted from studio activities and the final mounting of the shapes. Certain technical details could also be elucidated.
The various layers can be seen in the finished model. First, heavy construction paper was pasted on to a canvas (1-4). Then came the background paper, bearing charcoal lines and several coats of white gouache (5-8). With the aid of tracing paper, the composition was transfered to the background paper (9). Finally the colored forms were adhered (10).
The streaky character of the painted papers could be traced back to the employment of gouache considerably thinned with water. By comparison with the original (left), a similar streaky texture was produced in the reconstruction by applying thin paint with a brush of similar size (right).
There is a sheet of heavy paper located between the canvas and the background paper (see layering described in our previous News). This reinforcement, which ensures optimal adhesion between canvas and background paper, permitted the latter to be easily mounted with a minimum of adhesive.
Before mounting the forms, their contours were transferred to the background paper with the aid of stencils (left).
If too much water is used to dampen the forms in preparation for pasting, water collecting around the edges penetrates to the painted front side, dissolving the gouache (right). This results in lighter areas in the forms.