Henri Matisse cut-outs at the Tate bring record visitor numbers

Blockbuster exhibition sees more than half a million visitors for first time

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The Independent Culture

The blockbuster exhibition of Matisse’s paper cut-outs has become the most popular show in Tate’s history, attracting more than half a million people for the first time.

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs brought 562,600 visitors to Tate Modern, making it one of the most popular paid-for exhibitions in Britain for decades.

The show, about the last years of the artist’s life, when declining health prompted him to abandon paint in favour of paper and scissors, broke the Tate’s 12-year record for a ticketed show. The previous record-holder also featured Matisse.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said the exhibition had captured the public’s imagination “because of the joyous nature of the works themselves, also because they had not been brought together for almost 40 years”.

He added: “I think people were aware this would be the one opportunity that they may have in their lifetime to see these works together.”

The record was previously held by Matisse Picasso, for which 467,100 visited Tate Modern in 2002. A decade on, just 4,000 fewer flocked to see the Damien Hirst exhibition.

Since the turn of the century, only the David Hockney exhibition A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2012 has proved a more popular art exhibition, with 601,000 paying visitors.

The most popular museum show during the same period was The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army at the British Museum, which attracted 850,000 people in 2007.

The cut-outs show opened to rapturous reviews and public acclaim on 17 April, and ran until 7 September. To meet demand, the gallery even remained open for 36 hours straight during the final weekend.

“The response did exceed our expectations,” Sir Nicholas said.

Yet the Tate chief admitted that not all exhibitions had performed as well as hoped. The Tate Britain show focusing on the collection of Civilisation presenter Kenneth Clark, proved disappointing, he said.

“It was a very fine show and well reviewed, but perhaps didn’t quite capture the public imagination to the degree we had anticipated.”

Yet he vowed to continue backing challenging shows at Tate sites. “Not every show the Tate does should we expect very big attendance,” he said. “Part of our responsibility is to open up new areas of enquiry and throw new light on work that has been forgotten.”

The news came as Tate announced its annual report for 2013/14. It revealed that a total of seven million visitors went to its four sites, down nine per cent on the record numbers from a year earlier.

Sir Nicholas said reason for the decline was the previous year had been “exceptional” with the blockbuster Damien Hirst exhibition and the opening of the Tanks performance space.

“You always expect to see some fluctuation every year,” he said, adding that next year is likely to see a rise in figures following the Matisse exhibition and the full reopening of Tate Britain.

The gallery announced it was to lend a series of its best known works around the country including Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and Hockney’s My Parents to Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art in Norwich.

Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which was recently sold at auction and given to the Tate on a long-term loan, is to be shown in London, Liverpool and the artist’s home town of Margate.

“Tate has always sought to be national in aspiration as well as in name,” Sir Nicholas said, adding he hoped the new initiatives would help serve the whole country “and not just those who live in London or are able to reach London”.