Room 12: The Snail

Matisse initially imagined The Snail and Memory of Oceania as part of one huge composition, with Large Decoration with Masks (found in Room 11) at its centre. Perhaps Matisse’s original combination was his triumphant demonstration of the power and scope of the cut-out method.

With The Snail, he pushed the technique further away from representation than ever before, but described it as ‘abstraction rooted in reality’.

The rotating paper shapes radiate out in a spiral, echoing a snail’s shell. Working on an earlier snail, he talked about becoming ‘aware of an unfolding’. Unusually, the individual shapes are not carefully scissored, but roughly cut and sometimes even torn, though there is one playful exception in the top left corner.

Memory of Oceania shares this middle ground between abstraction and representation. Matisse once again drew on fond recollections of his 1930 trip to Tahiti, bringing the lagoon into his studio. While working on it, he remembered the light of the Pacific as ‘a deep golden goblet into which you look’.

Family activity

Matisse had assistants who painted sheets of paper in colours he chose. When he had cut out shapes, they pinned them to the wall for him.

Lots of different processes went into making the works in these rooms. Have a look and see if you can find traces of:

  • slicing
  • snipping
  • ripping
  • cutting
  • tearing
  • pinning
  • gluing
  • layering
  • drawing

Download the full guide for families [PDF 535 Kb] and bring it with you on your visit to the exhibition, or you can pick up a copy at the exhibition entrance.