Exhibition: Matisse. The illustrated books
Girona, 29 April 2004
“I’m dreaming of a book on Matisse colour.” These words were spoken to Matisse by the publisher Tériade on 20 August 1940. Seven years later, the book Jazz was published, an artist’s book that is incredibly joyful, despite the turbulent times out of which it was born, the result of the tenacity of painter and publisher. The result is spectacular: images inspired in the circus, trips and folk tales, painted with gouache, cut out and combined in an array of extraordinary beauty, and accompanied by a text containing the painter’s observations and notes on life in his own calligraphic writing. “I make no distinction between the creation of a book and that of a painting”, wrote Matisse in 1946. Over a 25-year period (1930-1954) he alternated his pictorial work with the creation of books in limited editions that make up a body of work with a character all its own. The exhibition Matisse. The illustrated books presents in ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Girona Sala d’Exposicions eight of these master works, taken from several museums and private collections, little-known to the general public. The choice of writers reveals a refined, eclectic literary taste: the mystic love letters of the Portuguese nun Marianna Alcaforado; the modern classics Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé; the great classics of French tradition, Charles d’Orléans and Pierre de Ronsard, and their contemporaries Henry de Montherlant and Georges Duthuit. But Matisse did not limit himself to illustrating poems, letters and passages of plays; he started from an affinity with the writer to create a complete work of art, where text and image link together in a sequence of great simplicity and expressive force.
The exhibition Matisse. The illustrated books, curated by Susanne Kudielka, can be visited at ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Girona Sala d’Exposicions (Sèquia, 5), from 30 April to 25 July 2004.
Most major artists of the 20th century combined their pictorial or sculpture work with the creation of written works whose originality and striking aesthetic beauty transformed the concept of books that was held up to then. Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was no exception. Under commission by publisher Albert Skira, he illustrated a book of poetry by Stéphane Mallarmé in 1939. That experience led to the discovery of a new means of expression. From that time until his death, Matisse created several artist’s books, which make up a body of work with a character all its own within his career.
Unlike other artists and painters, Matisse did not just hand his graphic work over to the publisher. Rather, he took over creation of the book, assuming responsibility for the tiniest details. Matisse used mock-ups that he created himself for the different text and illustration proofs of each page, (mise en page or page makeup). These mock-ups, in addition to the choice and sequence of the texts and illustrations (in pencil or colour sketches) sometimes also contained precise instructions for the printing of the book.
Matisse worked with various techniques (lithograph, linoleum cuts, etching and pochoir), seeking the simplicity of strokes that are unique, linear, and almost calligraphic. Nude and synthetic when he illustrates Mallarmé, he seeks effects that underscore the drama of Pasiphaë in the work of Montherlant through a linoleum cut, allowing him to achieve captivating images in negative. For the poems of Charles d’Orléans and Ronsard, Matisse plays with the face and floral elements, based on a direct movement that he never perfects or criticizes.
One of the exhibition’s main attractions is the possibility to view the book Jazz, a veritable explosion of colour created in 1947 by Matisse for the publisher Tériade. Matisse paints with gouache, using the same palette as in his oil paintings, and cuts out coloured papers to achieve compositions of startling visual impact. “These images in bright, violent colours come from the crystallization of memories of the circus, folk tales or trips. I have done these handwritten pages to soften the simultaneous reactions of my chromatic and rhythmic improvisations; these pages are something of a sonorous backdrop’ that transports and surrounds them.”
The exhibition Matisse. The illustrated books, made possible thanks to the support of the H. Matisse Estate, brings together the following eight books by the artist:
Poésies, by Stéphane Mallarmé – 1932
Following a trip to Tahiti in 1930, Matisse began work on his first book: the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898). In contrast to his pictorial work, fully imbued with tropical light and colours, Matisse sought out the essence: etchings of fine, regular strokes, with no shading, distributed throughout the entire sheet, conversing with the text occupying the right page. The imprint of Tahiti is picked up in the voluptuousness he uses to handle characteristic themes (feminine figures, windows, flowers), that combine with the recurrent images of Mallarmé’s poetry (fawns, swans, hair and fans).
Pasiphaé, Chant de Minos, by Henry de Montherlant – 1944
In 1928, author Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972) wrote a new version of the myth of Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos who, induced by Poseidon, was possessed by the white bull and gave birth to the Minotaur. Following a number of sessions to create the writer’s portrait, Matisse agreed to illustrate the book in 1940. He selected a number of fragments and physically developed them. Using the linoleum cut technique that allowed him to create images in negative, Matisse achieved effects of breathtaking dramatic quality. The red capital letters combined with etching and typeface round out an ensemble of marked elegance.
Lettres, by Marianna Alcaforado -1946
The love letters that Portuguese nun Marianna Alcaforado wrote to the Chevalier del Chamilly (a member of the expeditionary force sent by Louis XIV of France to help defend Portugal from the annexation attempts of the crown of Castille) make up one of the most beautiful collections of amorous letters of all time. Fiction? Reality? Are they really the translation of a 17th century nun’s letters? Or were they written directly in French by Guillerargues, the supposed translator? The illustrations show the novice in brown tones. The different letters are decorated with fruits and flowers in a celebration of passion and life.
Les fleurs du mal, by Charles Baudelaire – 1947
Matisse was an avid reader of the works of Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), one of the figures of reference in contemporary literature and art. One of the painter’s first works, Luxe, calme et volupté (1904), takes its title from a verse in the poem “Invitation to the Voyage”, from Flowers of Evil. The project of illustrating this essential work of modern poetry dates back to 1930, when Matisse was working on Mallarmé’s Poésies. Finally, in 1947, the Bibliothèque Française published a selection of poems illustrated with several feminine and masculine portraits, including such outstanding examples as that of the poet and another of a man similar to Matisse.
Jazz, by Henri Matisse – 1947
Fascinated by The Chromatic Symphony that Matisse designed for the cover of Verve magazine, in 1944 the publisher Tériade proposed he create a book “on Matisse colour”, a “manuscript of modern painting” that would recover the former splendour of medieval illuminations. Too busy with his painting, Matisse was not convinced right away. Seven years passed before the book became a reality. The result is spectacular: images inspired in the circus, trips and folk tales, painted with gouache, cut out and combined in an assembly of exuberant beauty. The text, in Matisse’s own calligraphy, features the painter’s observations and notes on life.
Florilège des amours, by Pierre de Ronsard – 1948
Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) believed poetry to be the result of a divine inspiration that the poet contributes to setting down through humanistic culture and an excellent elaborated technique. In him, Matisse discovered a soul mate. The 26 lithographs created by Matisse to illustrate the selection of 56 poems of Amours recreate the exuberance of nature, the voluptuousness of pleasure and the passion for life. The images (half and full-length pictures of feminine faces and profiles) are arranged around the text, making up a sort of garland, as in Baroque painting, but in a synthetic, completely contemporary language.
Poèmes, by Charles d’Orléans – 1950
While working on the illustrations for Ronsard’s Amours, Matisse developed an interest in the rondeaux, ballads and songs of one of the most celebrated troubadours, Charles d’Orléans (1394-1465). He made a selection of the poems and wrote them out in black pencil, surrounding them with colour friezes. He created the author’s portrait from a number of images of other members of his family, (as no historical image d’Orléans had been conserved) and composed 48 photolithographs from the different variations on the theme of the fleur-de-lis, symbol of the French monarchy.
Une fête en Cimmérie, by Georges Duthuit – 1963 In 1947, Matisse’s daughter Marguerite and her husband, writer and art critic Georges Duthuit, decided to begin a collection of books devoted to the ritual festivals of the various ancestral cultures. Une fête en Cimmérie, a poetic essay by Duthuit on the Inuit Indians of Canada, was to begin the series. It took fifteen years for it to be published. Matisse created 31 lithographs that represent the point of convergence between his way of understanding art, portraits and the masks of the Inuit, known through ethnographic documentation.
Matisse. The illustrated books
From 30 April to 25 July 2004
Opening: Thursday, 29 April, 8 pm
Place: ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Sala d’Exposicions
Sèquia, 5 – 17001 Girona
Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm and 5 to 9 pm
Sundays and holidays, 11 am to 2 pm
For the general public: Every Saturday, at 7 pm
Dynamic visits: for groups and schools, Monday to Friday, reservations required (972 21 54 08)
– Tuesday 4, 11, 18 and 25 May (7:30 pm)
Mise en page
Creation and interpretation: Cristina Cervià and Eduard Teixidó. Selection of texts: Roger Costa-Pau. Cristina, with her voice, and Eduard, with movement, will familiarize participants with the poets who captivated Matisse; books with pages on which the typography dances with the painter’s colours, manuscripts that give a sense of the colours, shapes and collages, adding another dimension to the blank page. At ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Sala d’Exposicions (Sèquia, 5). Free admission.
– Thursday 20 May (7:30 pm)
From Baudelaire to Mallarmé, a walk through silent poetry and painting that speaks.
By Xavier Pla, professor of Catalan Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Girona. At “la Caixa’s” Narcís de Carreras Auditorium (Santa Clara, 11). Free admission.
– Wednesday 19 May (7:30 pm)
The books of Matisse
By engraver Joan Barbarà and art historian Joan-Francesc Ainaud. This workshop will touch on the work procedures and techniques used by Henri Matisse as an illustrator and his concept of the book as a complete work. At ”la Caixa” Foundation’s Sala d’Exposicions (Sèquia, 5). For reservations, call 972 21 54 08.
– Wednesday 26 May (7:30 pm)
Matisse and the grotesque labyrinth
By Maria Josep Balsach, Contemporary Art professor at the University of Girona. This presentation will discuss the characteristic traits of Matisse’s art and iconography in its aesthetic facets as well as his relations with the context of the period. Concepts such as the arabesque and the infinite, colour and the analysis of shapes will be the starting point from which to configure the meaning of the creative process and the genesis of artistic work for the artist. At “la Caixa’s” Narcís de Carreras Auditorium (Santa Clara, 11). Free admission.