Bechtler Exhibit Features Matisse Art Books

Mar 10, 2015

"Le cow-boy" (The Cowboy), plate XIV of XX from "Jazz" by Henri Matisse, 1947.
Credit (c) 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has a new exhibit of art books by Henri Matisse. The French artist created a number of these books in the latter part of his life in the 1930s and 1940s. Bechtler Museum President and CEO John Boyer gave WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen a tour. 


The exhibit features four Matisse art books,  printed in very limited runs… between 20 and 200 copies

"Nymphes et faune: le concert" (Nymphs and Faun: The Concert), from "The Poetry of Stehpane Mellarme", Henri Matisse.
Credit Lausanne, Switzerland: Albert Skira and Cie, 1932 / (c) 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

each. Their portfolio-sized pages are individually framed and hang on the gallery walls. The first piece Boyer points out,  “The Afternoon of a Faun,” pairs black and white line drawings with poems from the French symbolist Stephane Mellarme. 

"The thing about this work [is that it] echoes so clearly some of his masterpieces in painting, like 'The Bathers'," Boyer says.

"The great accomplishment of so many of these powerful modern artists is that they do achieve this sense of activity, and, shall we say, corpulence, and his fascination with the female nude with the most elegant telegraphic brevity of line...the ability to distill these wonderful images and all the dynamic action of these various figures in this particular image to such a simple series of lines; that's part of the great accomplishment that you see in the work of Matisse."

After having cancer surgery in 1941, Matisse lost his ability to stand in front of an easel. So the artist turned to drawing and later to paper cutouts. He called it “painting with scissors,” and it was that bold, colorful style that he brought to the 1947 book "Jazz".

"Icare" (Icarus), plate VIII of XX, from "Jazz" by Henri Matisse, 1947.
Credit (c) 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Matisse wrote the text of “Jazz” himself, and he offers this explanation for the large, curvy script that accompanies his colorful cutouts:

These pages…will serve only to accompany my colors, just as asters help in the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. 

In "Jazz," Matisse writes about flying in an airplane and driving in fast cars.

"There is a real awareness in the vitality of American life among the great 20th century European modernists, and Matisse very much knew what life was like in our country, and yet here he relied on one of the most energizing and--in his mind--authentic stereotypes in American culture," Boyer explains.

"It's a completely convincing animation of forms despite the absolute simplicity of their rendering."