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Henri Matisse's paper cut-outs are the ultimate feelgood art, unique among the great works of the twentieth century in their ability to pop a smile on your face and put a bounce in your step. It's what will make 'Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs' a bona-fide blockbuster when it opens this Thursday for a five-month run at Tate Modern.
Yet these iconic artworks - such as the Tate's 'The Snail' (1953, see timeline, right) - don't exactly spring from a happy place. They were created between 1936 and his death in 1954, a period during which Matisse became embroiled in a bitter separation from his wife, was at times gravely ill and housebound in the South of France, while WWII ravaged the country. Often confined to his bed, he would set to work with long-bladed scissors on sheets of paper, painted in brilliant hues by his assistants, cutting with the dexterity of a master tailor to create forms that when pinned to the wall magically became rhythmic arrangements of flowers, leaves and nudes.
These are works of miraculous beauty but also defiance - against illness, war, old age. High-profile fans range from the grand old man of British painting Howard Hodgkin to the young London-based installation artist Samara Scott. As Hodgkin says, with the cut-outs 'all ages and sensibilities are catered for'.