Matisse: The Books || Louise Rogers Lalaurie

Matisse’s Livres d’Artiste are collector’s items and he created eight of them over a period of eighteen years (1932-1950). This book makes them available to a wider audience for the first time. One might, though, wonder why such treasures have not been previously reproduced.

This substantial book attempts, and largely succeeds, to be three things. Firstly, it provides excellent reproductions of the books themselves, in particular their images. Secondly, it provides an account and analysis of their creation, production and content. Finally, it also examines Matisse’s life during the period they were made, and especially his decision to live in Vichy France and the effect of that on his personal life. The author also explains how the books were the catalyst for the artist’s later cut-outs.

There is a danger in trying to be all these things at once and the primary one is that the books do not stand alone and speak for themselves. Despite the large format and quality of the reproduction, the text – excellent and thorough as it is – intrudes. This is inevitable and there is evidence, particularly from the placing of the illustrations, that Rogers Lalaurie is aware of this.

Given that there is nothing else on the subject, much of this can be forgiven. To get ten volumes out of the subject (eight straight reproductions, a critical analysis and an examination of a particular section of Matisse’s life) would perhaps be a tall order. Let us therefore be grateful that what is essentially a portmanteau has been so well accomplished.

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