MoMA dips into Matisse’s Swimming Pool

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Artist’s largest cut paper work is due to return to view in New York this autumn

By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 20 March 2014

Two panels from Matisse’s The Swimming Pool

Henri Matisse’s largest and most celebrated cut-out is due to return to the walls of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for the first time in more than 20 years. The Swimming Pool, 1952, a room-sized work that Matisse had originally created for his own dining room in Nice, is due to return to public view after a multi-year conservation effort. The restored version will be the centrepiece of the exhibition “Henri Matisse: the Cut-Outs”, the largest-ever presentation of such works, when it travels to New York in October. (The show opens at Tate Modern in London next month but The Swimming Pool will only appear at MoMA.)

Matisse embraced cut paper late in life as a way to make new, innovative work while confined to a wheelchair. He completedThe Swimming Pool, a blue-and-white tableau of swimmers splashing through the water, two years before he died. “I have always adored the sea, and now that I can no longer go for a swim, I have surrounded myself with it,” Matisse said of the work.

After the artist’s death in 1954, the pieces that comprise The Swimming Pool were removed from his apartment and remounted in Paris. The Museum of Modern Art acquired the work in 1975 and displayed it on and off until 1993.

Exhibiting The Swimming Pool is no simple feat. In the 1980s, Matisse’s son protested that the work had been mounted too low on the wall and said that he would rather see it taken down until it could be shown at its proper height, according to a research paper published in 2009 by Eliza Spaulding of New York University’s Conservation Centre. Meanwhile, Spaulding writes, conservators noticed that the work’s condition was deteriorating: the blue and white paper had become stained and discoloured, among other problems.

The restored The Swimming Pool will be shown at MoMA alongside 100 cut-outs and a selection of drawings, illustrated books, stained glass and textiles. It is co-curated by the museum’s senior prints and drawings curator Jodi Hauptman and the chief conservator Karl Buchberg, marking the first time a conservator has co-curated a MoMA exhibition.

The Swimming Pool installed in Matisse’s dining room at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, around 1952. Photo published in John Elderfield’s The Cut-Outs of Henri Matisse, 1978

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