Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Throughout his long artistic career Matisse was active as a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, printmaker and designer. Along with Picasso he is often regarded as the foremost artist of his time and in his paintings and prints renowned for his abstract use of pure colour and calligraphic patterns.
As a printmaker Matisse was diverse and prolific in his output, producing 825 images in total. These comprised 305 lithographs, 316 etchings and drypoints, 62 aquatints, 70 linogravures, 68 monotypes and 4 wood engravings.
Unlike many of his great contemporaries, Matisse did not attempt to express in his work the troubled times through which he lived. He wrote, what I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter … like a comforting influence, a mental balm – something like a good armchair in which one rests from physical fatigue.
We are delighted to be showing a collection of these prints in our Coltishall gallery from 27th April until 18th May 2019.
Work on show
In the early 1940s, in war torn Europe, the publisher Martin Fabiani offered Henri Matisse an extraordinary commission. Matisse was to choose a few of his favourite themes and make a series of drawings. In a letter to his daughter Matisse commented on the project;
For a year I made a very important effort, one of the most important of my life. I developed my drawing and with ease made surprising progress with freely expressed sensibility, a wide variety of sensations but a minimum of means. It was like a breakthrough.
The works were sensitively drawn with elegant unshaded line describing simplified forms of female figures and still lifes. This extremely rare suite was issued in Paris in 1943 in an edition of 950 copies, very few of which seem to have survived
Ronsard’s Florilége des Amours
In 1941, Matisse began one of his most complicated and successful printmaking projects, Florilege des Amours Ronsard, illustrating the love poems of 16th Century French Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard. The artist was nearing the end of his career and making line drawings of inspired simplicity “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity, serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter . . . like a comforting influence, a mental balm.”
The imagery created by Ronsard’s poems lent themselves well to Matisse’s favored theme of fruits, flowers, portraits and the female form.
Arguably the most lovely of the prints are those that remain close those motifs Mattise knew by heart and for which he had abiding fondness, these include botanical shapes or condensed female portraits for example. Also included intermittently are certain studio objects that can be seen migrating from painting to painting; a fluted vase or tobacco jar.
Mattise expanded the commission from 30 to 126 illustrations during the several revisions made over a seven-year interim. He had full control over selection and interpretation of verses, page layouts, paper quality, and typeface.
This now very rare suite was printed by Mourlot Frères in Paris on pure rag tinted wove Papeteries d’Arches paper in an edition of 320 sets only, of which 300 were for sale.
The Last Works
In his final bedridden years Matisse embarked upon highly original work using brightly coloured cut-out paper shapes (gouaches découpées), arranged into pure abstract patterns. “Instead of drawing an outline and filling in the colour…I am drawing directly in colour,” he said. Drawing with scissors – cutting shapes from paper he had pre-painted – meant that the contour of a shape and its internal area were formed simultaneously. The colours he used in his cut-outs were often so strong that his doctor advised him to wear dark glasses
In earlier years Matisse had made the acquaintance of Fernand Mourlot, owner of the great firm of French lithographers Mourlot Frères. He was therefore delighted when the French art entrepreneur, Monsieur Tériade suggested that the craftsmen at Mourlot’s should reinterpret the cut-outs as lithographs. A suite of thirty-nine images was printed from the stone blocks at the atelier. The precise edition size is not known but they are now comparatively scarce.
Matisse considered these his new way of painting, he said;
Scissors can acquire more feeling for line than pencil or charcoal