Exhibit: MOMA Restores the Art of Matisse Cut-Out, ‘Swimming Pool’

Art history (or legend) has it the great Henri Matisse once took an afternoon off from his art studio on a particularly warm summer’s day in 1952 to visit a nearby swimming pool in the south of France.

But, upon arrival, he found the day so hot and uncomfortable that he told an assistant they’d return to the studio so he could create his own “swimming pool” there. In fact, he’d create one of his most popular works and an iconic piece of cut-out art.

Now, with sponsorship from one of the city’s newest major hotels (the Park Hyatt), New York’s Museum of Modern Art is exhibiting the return of The Swimming Pool following an extensive restoration effort.

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The piece sets blue paper cut-outs set into a white paper frieze against a backdrop of tan burlap. It hung in Matisse’s studio until his death in 1954 and the 54″ work was acquired by MOMA in 1975. The decades faded most of the materials, so MOMA restoration experts and art historians began a painstaking effort in 2008 to make certain the piece would once again look and hang as it did in the French studio of the 1950s.

That restoration meant finding a space where the entire work could hang at the proper height and in the order intended within MOMA. It also required matching the original burlap color and making minute color repairs to the paper. While the end result cannot precisely match how Matisse hung the piece in his original studio, it does simulate how the piece was presented soon after his death.

Swimming Pool is the centerpiece of MOMA’s ongoing Henri Matisse: Cut-Outs exhibit running now through Feb. 8, 2015

Photos courtesy MOMA.