‘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.'
(Minnie Scott’s description/guide to room 10 of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern)
The exhibition as a whole was a success. Matisse was the subject of my earliest memories in art class. Cutting out pieces of coloured paper wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I would’ve preferred to draw with my pen and pencil! However, this doesn’t reduce the nostalgia or diminish my appreciation for Matisse’s work.
Three pieces of work in particular caught my eye. First, Two Dancers ‘Black and Red’ (painted in 1937) is a top-notch example of Matisse’s technique. You can see the thumbtacks, ripped paper and graphite lines marked on the surface. This display of process and technique is what I found most interesting. Second, The Snail (a later piece of work from 1953) holds more of a sentimental meaning to me. I had a very special date with someone and remember visiting the Tate Modern with her. I asked her to guess what animal the painting was of (without reading its title of course). Finally! The Parakeet and the Mermaid (1952). It’s the size of these pictures that give them their uniqueness. When sitting in front of the canvas you feel enveloped by the picture and can therefore appreciate the subject of the artwork. It is a beautiful forest! And its “storybook” characters are almost hidden in the copious amount of colour. The shapes and forms of the leaves and fruit make this piece a fairytale setting that I could sit and enjoy for hours.