Room 10: The Parakeet and the Mermaid

The Parakeet and the Mermaid is one of the largest cut-outs Matisse ever made. The two creatures of the title are nestled among fruit and his – by now – characteristic algae-like leaf forms.

This composition is the product of long experimentation; Matisse tried out different shapes – including a Blue Nude – where the mermaid is today. As it blossomed across his studio walls, Matisse described the work as his garden. Too frail to leave his house, here was a way of bringing the outdoors inside.

He and his studio assistants established a regular system for working together. The assistants would do the preparatory painting of the paper in the gouache paint colours of Matisse’s choice, and then – with pin-cushions strapped to their wrists and hammers hung round their necks – they would climb a ladder and position cut out shapes under his direction.

As all the works in this room demonstrate, the white background was not just a neutral setting but an active part of the work. Matisse felt that white’s contrast with the coloured cut paper gave it a ‘rare and intangible quality’.

Family activity

Matisse was too ill to go out, so he made The Parakeet and the Mermaid to bring a whole garden into his home. It spread around the corners of his house, the paper shapes pinned in place, fluttering in the slightest breeze – not so much a flat picture as an environment.

What outdoor space would you want to bring inside your home?

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.