Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man

By Raymond Escholier; Geraldine Colvile et al. | Go to book overview

I
THE PURE ACT OF PAINTING

Le Cateau

The small town of Le Cateau, standing six miles from Cambrai, overlooking the river Selle, has many street-names derived from trade-guilds, and industries still flourish, but the chief source of revenue is sugar, from surrounding miles of beet, planted in rows in heavy clay soil and marine silt. The air smells of the sea.

In 1914, German machine-gunners, creeping stealthily over those fields, almost wiped out General French's 'contemptible little army', out-numbered as it was by twenty to one. But the British put up a defence in their finest military tradition. They fought on the banks of the Selle, and came to a final stand in the town itself, round the statue of Marshal Mortier, Duke of Trévise, who seemed by some touching irony to be in command of a last square of England's army.

Le Cateau was an Imperial town until Louis XIV, and RESIST has been the motto and pass-word of its citizens from the beginning. Burned to the ground, taken by assault, sacked five times, the ramparts crumbled, the old Nervian capital rises again from its ashes.

The character of Le Cateau, in spite of sad, rainy skies, seems to come from the violent blood of the Spaniards who ruled there for centuries. A strong, obstinate race has taken root on those marshes trampled by invaders, between the Flemish plain and the Ardennes, among the hills joining Picardy and Artois.

What really happened there between 1940 and 1945, concerned me very much, as refugees from Le Cateau were spreading the most sinister rumours, and I wrote to the Mayor. His reply makes it quite clear.

December 26th, 1950.

'Sir, this time Le Cateau has been miraculously spared the trials of 1914-18.
Half-a-dozen houses were partly damaged by shells during the enemy advance in
1940.

'Except for an important factory which we fired ourselves during the Libera-
tion, the rest of the town is intact.

-21-

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Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 9
  • Introduction And Notes on the Illustrations 11
  • Foreword 17
  • I- The Pure Act of Painting 21
  • II- Fauves and Odalisques 57
  • IV- Crystal Light 110
  • V- Black and White 119
  • VI- The Sculptor 138
  • VII- In Search of the Absolute 143
  • VIII- The Road to Paradise 179
  • Index 214
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