Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs

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The Swimming Pool

Henri Matisse. The Swimming Pool

GLENN LOWRY: In the summer of 1952, Matisse began work on The Swimming Pool, a room-size frieze for his dining room. By cutting forms in the shape of swimmers, divers, and sea creatures and pinning them onto the room’s four walls, Matisse created his only truly site-specific cut-out. Curator, Jodi Hauptman:

JODI HAUPTMAN: The story about the making of the Pool is that Matisse and Lydia, his assistant and muse go to a pool. And they get there and it's boiling hot.

And Matisse says, "I'm going to die here. We have to go home." And so he goes home and he says, "I'm going to make my own pool." And so he asks Lydia to line his dining room with white paper hanging at a height of approximately just above his head.

And then he begins to cut the forms and make this pool. And the work, as you experience it there's this question about where you are. Are you under the water? Are you above the water? Are you in the water with the swimmers? So your position is oscillating. There's an oscillation between positive and negative, between human and animal because some of the figures look like human swimmers but they kind of look like fish also. There's the contrast between blue and white. So there's all these tensions that you're surrounded by. And there's this sense of the swimmers moving around you.

GLENN LOWRY: MoMA Conservator Karl Buchberg spent the past six years conserving this work. To learn how it was done, enter 6-9-1-1 in the keypad.