Matisse’s very popular show Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs recently closed at MoMA following a successful run at the Tate Modern last summer. Matisse is very well known for his colorful paintings, drawings, sculpture and mixed-paper collages, the latter of which he turned to exclusively in the early 1940s.
By this time, Matisse had experienced a long and prolific career: along with his contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Matisse is recognized as a major player in early 20th century expressive art, and dabbled in Fauvism, Impressionism and modernism. A regular at the Paris apartment/salon of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Matisse’s works dominated their walls, and their patronage and friendship greatly helped his career.
Matisse originally used cut-outs in the planning process for his paintings and sculptures; a sort of technical sketch where he repositioned and re-pinned various elements until he was happy with the final composition. In 1941, after undergoing surgery for stomach cancer, Matisse was left bed and wheelchair bound and found that he could no longer paint or sculpt as he once had.
Not one to give up, Matisse then moved primarily to dramatic, yet simple cut-out collages, which he could do somewhat easily from bed. The works started out with a little experimentation: he would cut out various shapes, and instruct assistants or nurses to position the pieces all over the walls of his home and hospital rooms. Matisse would then evaluate their positions, and have his assistants repositioned them, sometimes over and over again, until he was satisfied with the composition. Later, the pieces would be glued to canvases and paper, which is how many are presented today. Earlier examples of these collages show holes and puncture marks, showing the trial and error process, an imperfect look that Matisse preferred.
One of Matisse’s most well known cut-outs was also his only site-specific work. After visiting a pool in Cannes with his assistant, Lydia, Matisse wanted to bring the idea of the pool back to his dining room. After Lydia wrapped a portion of his walls in white paper, Matisse cut out and painted divers and swimmers, positioning them around his room. The end result, called The Swimming Pool, was purchased by NY’s Museum of Modern Art in 1975 (21 years after Matisse’s death at the age of 85) and quickly became a museum favorite and a prime and important example of his work in this medium.
One of my favorite things about this work is all of the research, conservation and care that MoMA has put into the display of this work. After viewing images of the work in situ in Matisse’s dining room, MoMA planned a huge conservation project with the goal of restoring the original color balance of the work, part of which involved re-mounting the white paper and blue shapes on new burlap and removing surface stains. Following all of this, the work was then re-installed in a gallery specifically designed to mimic the dining room in which they once hung; visitors enter a doorway arranged similarly to the entrance in Matisse’s dining room, and the burlap panels are hung at the same height as they were originally designed. Well done, MoMA!
Without further ado, here is a recipe for Linzer Torte Bars, which are the original cut-out cookie. This decorative dessert can be made as cookies, bars or a torte, which is how it originally appeared in Linz, Austria back in the 17th century. Even though these are typically a winter holiday treat, I think they still work now, especially since the recent snow up here in NYC is not exactly spring-like!
Linzer Torte Bars
Base and Lattice Dough:
¾ cup hazelnuts, toasted
¾ cup almonds, toasted
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature, and cut into ½ inch cubes
¾ cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of a lime
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon ground flaxseeds
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
dash of water
handful of slivered almonds (optional)
First make the base:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Measure 3 tablespoons of flour (either variety) and set aside. Add in salt, baking powder and remaining flour to butter and sugar. Slowly mix in the egg, followed by the egg yolk, beating completely between each addition. Add the vanilla extract and lime zest, and set mixture aside.
Using a food processor, pulse the nuts and the 3 tablespoons of flour that you saved above, until the nuts are ground but not yet in the nut-butter stage, about 10-15 seconds. Stir the nut mixture into your dough with a wooden spoon, and once combined, gently knead the dough a few times with your hands inside the bowl of your mixer. Divide the dough into two equal portions, either by eyeballing or using a kitchen scale.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray the bottom and sides of an 8×8 square pan with cooking spray (or butter!). Press one of the dough halves into the bottom of the pan, evenly pushing the dough into an even level that extends about ¼ inch up the sides of the pan on all sides. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, and let cool.
While the crust is baking, throw together the filling:
Mix together the flaxseeds, flour and jam, and voilà—you have your filling! Next, roll the remaining dough out on a floured surface, until it resembles a 9-10 inch square. Now comes the cut-out part: using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into any shape you wish: you could do a woven lattice, strips, or cut out shapes with a small cookie cutter like I did. Top your crust with the filling, and then lightly arrange the dough shapes over the filling.
Before sticking in the oven, whip an egg yolk with a little bit of water, and brush it over the pastry. Cover with slivered almonds if you like and bake for about 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into 16 pieces. Yum!