Henri Matisse’s Swimming Pool – 2,000++ hours to re-create

Packaging from MOMA exhibition "Henri Matisse: The Cut Outs"
Packaging from the MOMA exhibition “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs”

Last week, I visited MOMA’s exhibition “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs”.  One of my favorite parts of the exhibition was the re-creation of the Swimming Pool from Matisse’s dining room at the Hotel Regina in Nice in 1952.

The Swimming Pool in Matisse’s dining room at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, 1952. Photo: Lydia Delectorskaya. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse Source: MOMA website
The Swimming Pool in Matisse’s dining room at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, 1952. Photo: Lydia Delectorskaya. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse. Source: MOMA website

What impressed me the most was the amount of time, effort and care taken by MOMA’s conservation team to re-create the Swimming Pool.  This exhibit was originally installed at MOMA in 1977, but it had to be taken down in 1993 due to discoloration from the burlap that was affecting the paper. (The original burlap was replaced with new burlap in Paris after Matisse’s death in 1954, despite the known risks of burlap’s acidity and tendency for discoloration.)

About five years ago, the conservation team began researching what had to be done to restore the Swimming Pool. The grandson of Matisse provided the team with a piece of the original burlap that hung in Matisse’s dining room.  From this piece, the team was able to re-create the original burlap by removing the old burlap thread by thread by hand, which took more than 2,000 hours to complete. Then, they removed any clumps and other imperfections in the new burlap by hand.

MOMA Matisse: Cut-Outs Thread by Thread
Removing burlap thread by thread. Source: MOMA

The team also used a colored pencil to lightly touch out any scratches and dings in the blue colored paper.  They used a vinyl eraser to clean the surface of the white paper.

The team also re-created the original dimensions of Matisse’s dining room for the exhibition space. For the first time, the team made the decision to pin the cut-outs to the new burlap using the original pin holes used to hang the Swimming Pool in Matisse’s dining room.  The team wanted to re-create the same feeling that the cut-outs had in Matisse’s dining room, as well as having the flexibility to remove the cut-outs from the burlap after the exhibition to prevent a repeat of the past discoloration.

For me, the level of effort, attention to detail and consideration by the MOMA team gave me perspective on executing craft.  In comparison to their work, having to double score my book doesn’t seem that bad.

You can watch the video on the MOMA conservation process of the Swimming Pool here.

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