Interpretation of literary works through artistic medium became popular in the early Twentieth Century and Henri Matisse’s illustrations, originating in the early 1930s, are certainly amongst the most renowned examples of this art form. The works are courtesy of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s admirable art collection, as part of their Art in our Communities programme, which aims to share artwork with the wider public. They certainly did not fail to provide with this show and as the exhibition promised, there are illustrations and text on display from four of Matisse’s most significant books, spread across two spacious galleries.
Pasiphaé, Chant de Minos (Les Crétois), 1944, which tells the story of Pasiphaé who mated with a bull and spawned a half-bull, half-human creature known as the Minotaur, was another work of literature that inspired Matisse. Henry de Motherland composed the text for this book with accompanied by lino prints, white against black, carved with such fluency and expertise that the line work is undoubtedly Matisse mastery. Linoleum carving was a favoured medium adopted my Matisse as it enabled him to encapsulate the subtle movements of the hand, giving each piece a charming sense of intricacy and craftsmanship.
Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, 1932; Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans, 1950 and the infamous, Jazz, 1947 also showcase the signature style that has provided Henri Matisse with his artistic credentials and unmarked reputation as the innovator of the modern art scene during his era. Pochoir, from the French for ‘stencil’, etching, engraving and printing are all an extension of Matisse’s recognisable illustrative style, producing artworks managed and produced, from paper selection to typeface, by the visionary himself. During the peak of his career, Matisse’s eyesight began to fail him leading him to make use of bolder colours, larger shapes and more expressive lines, yet it was (and still is) exactly this biological flaw that has elevated him to his iconic status.
“I do not distinguish between the construction of a book and that of a painting and I always proceed from the simple to the complex” is the 1946, Matisse quote that decorates the gallery wall and this view of inextricability between literature and art is so beautifully evident. Perusing the exhibition space and admiring the visual masterpieces is comparable to reading great works if literature with enough flair to impress yet enough agency left to encourage the spectators’ imagination – the way both art and literature should be manifested.
Replica plates of printing techniques employed by the great, Matisse are left exposed for viewers to touch and interact with, permitting them to trace the lines which the artist himself would have engraved with such undeniable competence. It’s not often enough that exhibitions grant physical communication between visitors and the artwork – and what a refreshing invigoration it provides from the traditional, ‘look, don’t touch’ attitude. Audience engagement is vital and this exhibition encourages it brilliantly without compromising the Matisse elegance that is rightly so adored.
21 October 2011 – 15 April 2012
All images are owned and provided by Liverpool Museums