Walker Takes a Leaf out of Matisse's Books; the UK's First Public Showing of Henri Matisse's Art Books Opens at the Walker This Month. Laura Davis Reports
Byline: Laura Davis
AMONG their pages, foppish French courtiers fall head over heels in love, kings defy gods, monsters are conceived through bizarre romances and a famous artist pontificates on flower arranging.
They are Henri Matisse's art books, an alluring collection of etchings, linoprints, lithographs and text exhibited for the first time in the UK at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery. When the show opens later this month, pages from four of the influential French painters' volumes will be displayed in frames alongside a selection of other art books from National Museums Liverpool's collection.
Just a small number of each one was published during Matisse's lifetime, as a more affordable way of collecting his art.
"He would get really intense about the projects he was working on and when he would reach a point when his creativity just wasn't flowing it would make him physically ill," says the Walker's head of fine art, Ann Bukantis.
"When he would reach a creative block with his paintings he would look for something that would fire him up again."
The books gave Matisse another way of tackling his art.
The first was the poetry of Stphane Mallarm, a French symbolist whose multi-layered writing was often dismissed by critics as inaccessible. Invited by Swiss publisher Albert Skira to illustrate an anthology of his work, Matisse was drawn to those poems inspired by women or nature. Instead of literally depicting the poems' subjects, he chose to express his own responses to them in the 27 etchings.
"They've got a wonderful fluidity to them, just as if he were drawing with a pencil or charcoal," says Bukantis.
"Some of them incorporate recollections of places he's visited. In 1930, he went to Tahiti to experience the different light and atmosphere there and it had a really profound effect on him. You can see some of the imagery of his visit in his illustrations."
The picture of an aggressive swan accompanying Mallarm's poem, Petit Air, was also taken from a real experience.
Matisse was attacked by the bird while sketching outdoors and had to beat it off with an oar.
For Pasipha, Chant de Minos (Les Crtois), which tells of how the half-bull, half-human Minotaur came to be, the artist gouged his drawings into soft linoleum. …