Room 4: Oceania

Matisse’s studio assistant and secretary Lydia Delectorskaya recalled the starting point for Oceania, The Sky:

‘Matisse had cut out a swallow from a sheet of writing paper and, as it distressed him to tear up this beautiful shape and throw it away, he said, he put it up on this wall, also using it to cover up a stain, the sight of which disturbed him. Over the following weeks other shapes were cut out and put up on the same wall.’

Matisse pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves directly onto the wall of his Paris apartment without knowing in advance what the outcome would be. His inspiration was a visit to Tahiti sixteen years before. ‘It’s as though my memory had suddenly taken the place of the outside world’, he explained. ‘There, swimming every day in the lagoon, I took such intense pleasure in contemplating the submarine world.’

Family activity

Matisse made these two big works to remember a visit to the island of Tahiti where he loved swimming in the warm sea and admiring the ‘stupendous fish’.

Starting with one paper bird, he kept adding more creatures and plants from the sea and sky, covering two walls of his flat. As you look at these works, imagine you’re under the sea.

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.