Matisse Artist’s Books at the Walker Art Gallery

2012-03-30 16.20.10

I’ve been working in Liverpool all week and on Friday, as we finished early, I called into the Walker Art Gallery on route to Lime Street station.

They’re currently showing an exhibition of artist’s books by Matisse, and it closes at the end of April, so I popped in to take a look. As usual it was free entry.

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

Like many artists, Matisse worked in different media and would try his hand with various techniques. He created around a dozen  “livre d’artiste” (artist’s books) – illustrated books published as collectible, limited editions. One of the first example of an artist’s book is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience which merges drawings with hand written text

Illustrations from four books created by Matisse are on show in the exhibition. They’re not displayed as complete books though, rather individual pages are mounted and framed and hung on the walls.

File:Jazz Henri Matisse.JPG

Cover of Jazz (1947) showing Le clown source Wikipedia

Probably the most well known images are from Jazz, which was published in 1947. Matisse created the images using the paper cut-out technique that he developed in his later years. The publisher then reproduced them using the “pochoir” stencilling technique. The same gouache paints used by the artist were then applied through the stencil to produce the highly coloured prints.

Jazz contains some of Matisse’s most well known images, including Icare (Icarus), Le clown, Le Loup and  Le Lagon.


Icare (Icarus) Source:

Le Cirque (The circus) Source

Personally I preferred the simple, effective line drawings included in two of the earlier books Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé,  from 1932, and Pasiphae, Chant de Minos published in 1944.


The drawings from Poésies, reproduced as etched prints, illustrate Mallarmé’s poem. They include portraits of Edgar Allen Poe and Mallarmé, and mythological images. In the book, Matisse attempted to balance the images and the text. Full-page illustrations were placed on the right hand page opposite the text, printed in 20-point Garamond italic typeface on the left hand pages.

, La chevelure [Tresses]

La chevelure [Tresses] Source:

, Hérodiade

Hérodiade Source:

, La coiffure d'Hérodiade [Hérodiade's hair]

La coiffure d’Hérodiade Source:

I thought the portrait of Edgar Allen Poe, which accompanied the poem “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.” was particularly effective. Matisse has used a few simple strokes yet has created an expressive image which captures the likeness of the American author and also seems to convey something of his character.

, Portrait E. Poe

Portrait E. Poe Source:

The images in Pasiphae, Chant de Minos (1942), a retelling of the Greek legend of Pasiphaë and the Minoan bull, are linocuts and comprise simple white lines on an intense black background, which are characteristic of this printing technique.

Pages 26-27 di Pasiphae – Chant de Minos – Source

Images from the book can be viewed here.

The fourth book included in the exhibition was Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans which was published in 1950. In this case the images were printed by lithography, which means that they can incorporate several colours. However Matisse has only used a limited palette.


This was my least favourite set of prints in the exhibition. The drawings mainly consisted of variants on the fleur de lis with a few sketches of people, which were much less powerful than those in Poésies and Pasiphae.  Images from the book can be viewed here.

2 thoughts on “Matisse Artist’s Books at the Walker Art Gallery

  1. Pingback: Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Britain | Down by the Dougie

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