Matisse: The Books

Thames and Hudson / University of Chicago Press, 2020

My study of Matisse’s major livres d’artiste grew out of my MPhil. research thesis at the University of London Institute in Paris, and a lifelong love of poetry and pictures together on the page that began When I Was Very Young indeed. For the first time, almost all of the illustrations and spreads from Matisse’s eight major livres d’artiste are reproduced together with my account of each books’ genesis, making and meaning, in the context of Matisse’s life and work – especially his war years in Nice, and the transition to the tremendous, late flowering of the paper-cut-outs.

The book launched in lockdown 2020, with an online discussion with my ULIP supervisor, Professor Anna-Louise Milne:

Matisse: The Books considers how in each of eight limited-edition volumes, the artist constructs an intriguing dialogue between word and image. The study highlights the books’ profound significance for Matisse as the catalysts for the extraordinary ‘second life’ of his paper cut-outs. In concert with an eclectic selection of poetry, drama and, tantalizingly, Matisse’s own words, the books’ images offer an astonishing portrait of creative resistance and regeneration. Matisse’s books contain some of his best-known graphic works: the magnificent, belligerent swan from the Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé, or the vigorous linocut profile from Pasiphaé (1944), reversed in a single, rippling stroke out of a lake of velvety black. In Jazz, the cut-out silhouette of Icarus plummets through the azure, surrounded by yellow starbursts, his heart a mesmerizing dot of red. But while such individual images are well known, their place in an integrated sequence of pictures, decorations and words is not.

Together, the books reveal Matisse’s deep engagement with questions of beauty and truth; his faith; his relationship to his critics, the French art establishment and the women in his life. In addition, Matisse: The Books illuminates the artist’s often misunderstood political affinities – in particular, his decision to live in the collaborationist Vichy zone, throughout World War II. Matisse’s wartime books are revealed as a deeply personal statement of resistance.

Praise for Matisse: The Books

[Matisse’s] eight livres d’artiste [are examined]… with exemplary care. […] Lalaurie pays close attention to the texts, throwing new light onto Matisse’s choice of books, which was determined by both a profound engagement with France’s literary pantheon and the artist’s own political conscience. Her linguistic skills are particularly valuable to an English audience, who might easily miss the nuances of the original French, as well as allusions to… French history, veiled references that alert the reader to subtle analogies with Matisse’s situation…. Lalaurie shows how understanding the motives behind Matisse’s choice of books rather than simply admiring his livres d’artiste as art objects can add to our understanding, not only of the works, but also of the artist’s inner life.’
Sarah Whitfield in The Burlington Magazine, February 2021

‘…[one interesting] aspect of Matisse: The Books is its off-label use as a mini-biography of the artist’s wartime years… Lalaurie nicely draws out the contradictions of a man both cultivating his fame and retreating from it… Matisse: The Books offers detailed histories and context on each of the eight major artist books he produced… Lalaurie walks the reader through each publication, practically page by page and image by image…[yielding] provocative insights [and] observations… [The] extensive… engaging commentary offers a worthwhile late-period portrait of an artist who “used books to tell the story of his life” and “renew[ed]the very concept of illustration.”‘
Mark Polizotti in Apollo

‘Lalaurie’s fresh, in-depth… study… is a major compensation for those unable to visit the Centre Pompidou’s delayed 150th birthday tribute Matisse: Comme un roman.’
Jackie Wullschläger in the Financial Times

‘…illuminating contextual and interpretative essays accompany reproductions of substantial portions of each book, including their texts… Beautifully designed and produced.’
Florence Hallett in The New European

One of the most successful aspects of Matisse: The Books is the way it conveys the flourishing sense of space and air that is integral to Matisse’s influence. The artist’s sensitivity to the often allusive nature of poetry also emphasises how, in this late stage of his work, he had begun to see drawing as a form of writing in itself. In Matisse’s intensified vision a language of signs holds the implication of “flowing lines that gradually resolve into legible motifs”. These motifs, or signs, enact their own intuitive grammar. Rogers Lalaurie also notes perceptively how the livre d’artiste was in some ways the perfect medium during the horrors of Nazi occupation, precisely because of the way the semantic gaps between image and text left room for the possibilities of code. These obliquities are greatly accentuated by Matisse’s understanding of the potency of silence in pictorial space.
Gregory Day in The Australian

Over his long lifetime Henri Matisse made eight important livres d’artistes that transformed the genre. Many were responses to the words of poets – Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Charles d’Orléans, and Ronsard, for example. Louise Roger Lalaurie’s Matisse: The Books considers this body of work in the context of Matisse’s overall development as an artist. These books-as-works-of-art are both a running commentary upon Matisse himself, the ever evolving, ever surprising image-maker, and an extraordinarily vivid series of critical responses to words that are often so rich and elusive in their meanings.
Michel Glover,

‘Substantial… authoritative, informative.’

‘A work of art can consist of printed pages… as is abundantly demonstrated [here]. [… Matisse’s books] were not minor works, but masterpieces. And because they were always intended for the pages of a book, they retain much of the force of the originals in this handsome volume.’
Martin Gayford in The Spectator: ‘Bright and beautiful: the year’s best art books reviewed’,
December 2020

‘…insightful commentary and perfectly reproduced full spreads of the master’s original prints… complete with the torn and deckled apper edges all print lovers adore.’
Mychael Barratt PPE in Printmaking Today, spring 20201

‘…Not only does it contain rarely seen images, but also a sensitive analysis of [Matisse’s] relationships… and political affiliations during World War II.’
The Arts Society

A well-illustrated scholarly assessment of [Matisse’s] books has long been overdue, but Lalaurie’s achievement makes the wait worthwhile… With the exception of one, all the book projects’ timelines overlap with WW II, and Lalaurie analyzes these convincingly as a “display of creative resistance,” “the perfect wartime medium,” encoded through interwoven word and image… Clear writing and argumentation, solid research, close readings of Matisse’s work, and elegant prose distinguish Lalaurie’s analyses… reinforced by a commendable book design that gives priority to multipage spreads from the original illustrated books. Lalaurie offers a rediscovery of Matisse to confirm his status at the heart of modern art. Early in his career, Matisse embraced music, dance, and decoration as themes of his creations and analogies for the experience of modern art. Lalaurie demonstrates that books, among these themes from the start, became powerful vehicles for Matisse at the height of his career.’
J. E. Housefield, University of California, Davis, in Choice magazine

‘…sumptuous… with meticulous attention to feel and detail… Limited in number and expensive to purchase, [these] words and images… have been inaccessible to a wider audience until now… The sheer number of images reproduced in sequence and the contextual detail given are much appreciated… in a publication that… brings us closer to Matisse and his books.’
Dr Beth Williamson in Studio International

‘Jazz, Matisse’s scintillating “livre d’artiste”, or artist’s book, [was] published in 1947, in an edition of 250 numbered copies. A lavish new study, Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s Matisse: The Books, addresses it afresh, along with his other forays into this genre.
Alastair Sooke, Daily Telegraph

Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s new book… is a welcome view onto this often underappreciated component of the French master’s oeuvre, and examines how the books shed light on Matisse’s artistic negotiations with such issues as literary allusion and poetic illustration, formal abstraction and political resistance.’
The New Criterion: The Critic’s Notebook

‘Henri Matisse often illustrated works that inspired him, especially towards the end of his life. This impressive book beautifully captures this strand of his creativity… the artist’s unique use of colour and simplified line drawing adds a pioneering edge to his artistry. Seeing them brought together [here] is utterly spellbinding.’
The Lady