Henri Matisse, frontispiece in the book Pasiphaé: Chant de Minos (Les Crétois) by H. de Montherlant (Paris: Martin Fabiana, 1944) (detail). Linocut on Japan paper. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books. Art © Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Matisse and the Artist Book

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Henri Matisse was 60 years old when he began to create original illustrations for livres d’artiste (artists’ books). By the time of his death, 25 years later, he had produced designs for 14 fully illustrated books, several of which are considered 20th-century masterpieces of the genre. View seven of these rare books, including Poésies (1932) and Pasiphaé (1944), in conjunction with the special exhibition Matisse from SFMOMA at the Legion of Honor.

Matisse was stimulated and challenged by book illustration and design, often taking months to prepare pictorial concepts. In his 1946 essay “How I Did My Books,” he wrote, “I draw no distinction between the construction of a book and the construction of a painting and always move from the simple to the complex, but I am always ready to reconceive in simplicity.” In the same essay he declared that the first principle of good book design was a rapport with the nature of the book. For Matisse this meant carefully balancing text and illustration. He handled this masterfully in Pasiphaé with delicate linocuts, and in Poésies with etchings composed of modified arabesques that draw attention to the illustration as much as to the inviting text.


This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Currently on view