Home Magazine An open book in space. Henry Matisse, a graphic designer?

At Paris’s Centre Pompidou stands ready the exhibition “Matisse, Like a Novel”, a “re-reading” of the literary works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the the most revered French painterpar excellence. The show, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Matisse’ birth, the is currently closed, due to the French lockdown, but here’s want we know about it. 

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Can Henry Matisse be considered, in its own right, a graphic designer?” This is the question that the curator Aurélie Verdierasks himself and the public of “Matisse, Like a Novel”. Indeed, the exhibition comes up with an original proposition: in addition to what has been largely written about the leader of the Fauvist movement, Matisse’s own writings, magazine designs, 230 works and 70 documents and archives will be presented with the intent to unveil a new facet of this incredible artist. 


Louis Aragon, Henri Matisse, Roman,1971, © Succession H. Matisse, Editions Gallimard, Photo: © Centre Pompidou.


The title of the show (Comme un roman, in French) is inspired by Henri Matisse, Roman, a so-called novelby Louis Aragon that wasturned into a two volumes art book. An erudite meditation born in 1971, from the passionate and moving conversations between the writer and the painter. Nine chronological chapters – with an introduction and a conclusion byLouis Aragonand critics Georges Duthuit, Clement Greenberg, Charles Lewis Hind and Jean Clay - who help to frame Matisse’s work within the exhibition.

Matisse, a revolutionary innovator throughout his life, introduced a great quantity of new signs to the plastic language. His expressionist explosions and juxtapositions of color and pattern, his liberation of line, volume, and form and the energy of his invention of the cut-upgouaches, to the exquisite “Matisse the writer”. 


Henri Matisse, Tête blanche et rose (White and Pink Head), 1914 -15, oil on canvas, 75 x 47 cm., © Succession H. Matisse..


Sculptor, draughtsman, engraver, printmaker, but known primarily as a painter, Matisse’s brilliant trajectory - over more than five decades of Modern Art - culminated in the literary dimension. From the 1930s onward, he focussed on illustrated books with Stéphane Mallarmé's Poems,which resonated with some impressivenon finitocanvases like Nymph in the Forest (1935 - 1943). Matisse's working method of conceptual and visual reduc­tionusually goes hand-in-hand with a propensity for ornamentation.


Henri Matisse,Nymphe dans la foret ou La Verdure(Nymph in the Forest), 1943, oil on canvas, 242x195 cm, Nice, Musee Matisse, © Succession H. Matisse.


The painting Interior with Aubergines (1911) - part of the "symphonic interiors" series - is one of Henri Matisse's most decorative works, a new plastic expression among the various trends he was testing: Cubism, Abstraction, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism. Around the 40s, Matisse designed covers for magazines including the Parisian Verve, revealing the vivid interaction of the written words and his drawings. 

Cut paper collages increased following Jazz (1947) - the most ground-breaking and personal artist’s books of the 20th century - and eventually led to the creation of mural-size works, and the designing of the chapel windows, chasubles and tabernacle door. Maybe not everyone knows that Matisse expanded his cut-outstechnique, within a truly decorative context, until his final artistic creation, the stained-glassed window installed at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, New York City.


Metri Matisse, Jazz, 1947, Sotheby’s, London , 20 pochoirs printed in colours, after collages and cut out paper designs on Arches wove paper, each sheet 42 x 65 cm, © Succession H. Matisse.


Can’t travel to Paris? Listen to the podcast on Centre Pompidou.fr or Immerse yourself in Matisse, Commeun Romanby Aurélie Verdier, ed., Centre Pompidou (French only).


Cover image: Henri Matisse, La Blouse roumaine, 1940. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne. Don de l’artiste à l’État, 1953 © Succession H. Matisse Photo © Centre Pompidou, Mnam-Cci / G. Meguerditchian / Dist. RMN-GP.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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