Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was involved with printmaking for more than fifty years. For Matisse printmaking was a personal process, an extension of drawing, and a means of unwinding after long and intense periods of painting. The intimate nature of Matisse’s printmaking is evident in his choice of subjects, which were mostly portraits of friends, family, and fellow artists, as well as images of female figures and nudes. Matisse’s prints were often executed on a small scale with linear fluidity, giving them a sense of immediacy and spontaneity, like pages in a sketchbook. From 1900 until his death in 1954 he completed more than eight hundred etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, linocuts, and monotypes. He is widely recognised as one of the greatest and most diverse printmakers of the 20th century.
Poetry was extremely important to Matisse who developed the daily habit of reading poems before starting his artistic routine. Matisse likened poetry to oxygen. It is unsurprising that his first literary illustrations were a suite of etchings for Mallarmes Poesies, 1932.
Matisse made 29 etchings for Poesies, now widely considered to be amongst his finest prints. He said that he used the extraordinary economy of the thin, engraved line with no shading whatsoever in order not to overpower the ethereal quality of Mallarmes poetry.
In early 1940s, in war torn Europe, the publisher Martin Fabini offered Henri Matisse an extraordinary commission. Matisse was to choose a few of his favourite themes and make a series of drawings. In a letter to his daughter Matisse commented on the project For a year I made a very important effort, one of the most important of my life. I developed my drawing and with ease made surprising progress with freely expressed sensibility, a wide variety of sensations but a minimum of means. It was like a breakthrough.
The works were sensitively drawn with elegant unshaded line describing simplified forms of female figures and still lifes.
This extremely rare suite was issued in Paris in 1943 in an edition of 950 copies, very few which seem to have survived. All are signed and dated in the plate and a copy of the numbered justification will accompany each print.
Lithographs, 1946, ed 250 printed by Mourlot Freres in Paris. Henri Matisse enjoyed an international reputation as one of the foremost painters of his time, and the supreme master of calligraphic pattern. Unlike many of his great contemporaries, Matisse did not attempt to express in his to express the troubled times through which he lived.
What I dream of, he wrote, is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter.
Visages fully demonstrates Matisse’s genius for drawing and his ability to incorporate and to express so much through line reduced to its simplest form. Matisse produced a series of 14 lithographs, being variations of the face of his model Annelies Nelck. The lithographs were printed in sanguine thereby, in the words of Claude Duthuit, amplifying the refined grace of the drawings of the models face.
Jazz and Circus
In 1947 Henri Matisse created a series of stunning paper cut-outs which he then arranged into compositions producing a unique work of art that has been referred to as the visual counterpart of Jazz Music.
Using a pair of scissors I simply cut into the paper which had been painted beforehand and, in one single movement, joined the line to colour and outline to surface.
The circus provided the inspiration for more than half of the motifs – performing artists, the curtain, the star or flame, and balancing acts, with figures both standing and falling. The other images were Matisse’s response to jazz. Matisse, wrote Riva Castleman, has taught the eye to hear
In 2004 they were brilliantly reinterpreted by the great Parisian Lithographers Mourlot. The intensity of colour is stunning. These lithographs were published in an edition of 1500.
The Last works
Between 1950 and 1954 Matisse created some highly innovative, brightly coloured gouache paper cut-outs. Severe arthritis had made it difficult for him to paint. In 1953 it was decided to reinterpret these works as lithographs. Matisse personally directed and supervised the first “pulls” during 1954, in collaboration with the renowned lithographers Mourlot Freres of Paris.
These prints are original lithographs from the 1954 edition after Matisse’s cut outs. They are not later reproductions and are not to confused with modern reproductions.