Henri Matisse began his art career as a painter. And for many years, he dazzled the world with beautiful painted compositions of fruit, flowers, figures, and landscapes. After being introduced to Impressionism and the work of Van Gogh, Matisse’s color palette and brushstrokes changed. He was suddenly painting with more bold, bright colors and looser brushstrokes.
He later went on to found “Fauvism” with André Derain, an art style coined by art critic Louis Vauxcelles meaning “wild beasts” because of their strong colors and simplified shapes. For many of these works, Matisse created paper cut-outs to decide the arrangement of elements in his paintings. They were never meant to be final works of art themselves.
But in the late 1940’s, he began creating paper cut-outs as art due to his poor health. These new artworks were playful, decorative, and of course, colorful. His assistants prepared the papers in colorways to his liking while Matisse used large shears to create his forms. Henri Matisse was said to have mastered “drawing with scissors.”
Henri Matisse Art Project
I teach this lesson about Henri Matisse to my 4th grade. We watch either “Dropping in on Matisse” or Art with Mati and Dada if we’re short on time. With all my video lessons, I have what I call, “video viewing sheets.” They are ten questions they answer during the movie. Don’t want any kids taking a nap when the lights go out!
Then we play my Henri Matisse roll-a-dice game in which we end up with 5 unique motifs for their art project.
Next, I give them 6 pieces of 4.5″x6″ pieces of paper. They paint loose brushstrokes on one side using a coarse brush.
Once dry – and they dry super quickly! – they draw each of the 5 motifs on back of 5 of the 6 papers.
Then they cut them out, reserving the scraps as well as that extra sheet of painted paper.
Next I give them a 12″x18″ white paper and a stack of random-colored construction paper squares/rectangles. Using the colored squares, they arrange two columns of papers of uneven sizes in a similar composition to Henri Matisse’s, “Beasts of the Sea” cut-out.
Then they arrange their 5 motifs on the two columns. In 3rd grade, I teach students about complementary colors. So for this 4th grade Henri Matisse lesson, I instruct students to try to overlap complementary colored motifs over backgrounds scraps of the opposite color. So yellow on violet, green on red, and blue over orange.
Lastly, students use their remaining scraps to create their own unique paper cut-outs. I encourage them to try Matisse’s “drawing with scissors” approach, meaning cut without drawing.
Some take it as a challenge and jump right in while others are hesitant. It’s OK. Let them attempt it however they’re comfortable. You will get better work that way.
I’ve done this Henri Matisse art lesson several ways, but the painted paper approach is by far my favorite. The contrast of painted papers versus solid-colored construction paper makes for interesting contrast. It adds both visual texture and vibrancy to the artworks. Not to mention how amazing they look hung up on the hallway bulletin board. This is one of those projects where teachers will stop by your room to tell you how great your board looks. Ask me how I know. 😉
And the use of the game adds an exciting element to the lesson that my students look forward to. Despite there being the same motifs on the game, each and every project comes out completely different. Every student interprets and arranges the images differently.
At the completion of this project a student said to me, “This was my favorite thing we’ve done all year!” It’s always an exciting teacher moment when a student says that!
You can pick up a copy of the game and step-by-step directions for this Henri Matisse project in my shop.
What is your favorite approach to teaching about the life and work of Henri Matisse? I’d love to hear your thoughts!