Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin is currently exhibiting five out of the more than a dozen artist’s books produced by Henri Matisse. I wanted to look at the approach in these books towards marrying the elements of narrative, typography and illustration.

I was a little surprised to learn that they often came unbound, in loose sheets. Jazz (1947) is Matisse’s best-known art book, with bold colours and occasional lithographed text as accompaniment to the images. Jazz is brilliant and large-scale – and in my mind somewhat at odds with the idea of the portability of the book (it was originally conceived as a collection of plates). In terms of book production, then, I found the other exhibits of more interest.

(1944) is Henry de Montherlant’s retelling of the legend of the birth of the Minotaur. For this, Matisse selected favourite phrases from the text which he interpreted in several ways – though in the book he published only one image per scene. The linoleum-produced illustrations consist of white lines on a black background, forming silhouettes which recall classical Greek representations of the figure; dispersed throughout the book, they contrast sharply with the white pages containing the black lettering of the text. (I also noted that the text incorporates a combination of verse, regular prose and dramatic dialogue.)

an image from Pasiphaé (source: henri-matisse.net)

For Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans (1950) Matisse created a backdrop to the medieval-period poems rather than direct illustrations. What stands out here is the use of his own calligraphic script for the text – surrounded by garlands and rolls; he also decided to
vary the colour and motif of the script in order to avoid monotony.

In Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé (1932) he responded to the poet’s stated emphasis on the importance of the white space around the poem by etching “an even, very thin line, without hatching, so that the printed page is left almost as white as it was before printing.” So, like in
Pasiphaé, the soft-line images placed on the opposite page to the text form an attractive contrast to the dense black type.

an image from Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé (source: henri-matisse.net)

And there’s also his illustration of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1935). Most intriguing here is the fact that Matisse chose to illustrate subjects from The Odyssey rather than scenes from Joyce’s text. His pencil studies reproduced on blue & yellow (see-through) tissue are impressive.

The exhibition continues until 25 September 2011.

1 comment:

Dhiraj said...

Yes they may be. depends on your mood
see my take at