One summer morning in 1952, Matisse told his studio assistant and secretary Lydia Delectorskaya that “he wanted to see divers,” so they went to a favorite pool in Cannes. Suffering under the blazing sun, they returned home, and Matisse declared, “I will make myself my own pool.” He asked Delectorskaya to ring the walls of his dining room at the Hôtel Régina in Nice with a white paper band just above the level of his head, breaking only at window and doors at opposite ends of the room. Matisse cut divers, swimmers, and sea creatures out of paper painted ultramarine blue and pinned them onto the white paper.
The result was Matisse’s first and only self-contained, site-specific cut-out. Matisse saw in paper’s pliability an ideal match for the fluidity of water, making the piece a perfect synthesis of subject and means. With its simplification of forms, dynamic use of positives and negatives, and expansion across the walls, The Swimming Pool was the culmination of Matisse’s cut-paper work up to that point.