Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse, Chatter: Misplaced interviews

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Henri Matisse, les entretiens égarés - Souvenirs, reflections and revelations of a great 20th century master - Interview by Pierre Courthion - Under the direction of Serge Guilbaut

Edition Skira, September 2017 - 272 Pages
Matisse, a former student of Bouguereau and Moreau, is considered one of the major painters of the 20th century. What is less known is that Matisse was also a great art theorist. He said it himself: all his plastic choices were linked to a perception, an experience, a memory... Elements that he shared and liked to philosophize about during his numerous interviews, now gathered and shared through this book, whose lines let us guess the most intimate thoughts of the artist, but also, and above all, of man. A sort of spiritual testament to Matisse, an informal confession in which the great artist tells in the first person his ideas about painting, his aesthetics of colour, the stages of his artistic journey. "To create is to express what one has in oneself," he said.
Lost for more than 70 years, this interview was first published in English in 2013, then translated into Italian by Skira in 2015. From artistic retrospection to personal introspection, this book offers us the artist's deepest memories and thoughts.
In that year 1941 Matisse miraculously survived a major surgery. It is in the boredom of a too long convalescence, far from his usual environment, when he has just left the pains of the flesh to find his all too familiar anguish of the next day, that the idea of such a work was born.
The initiators of this project are sincere and passionate about art at a particularly troubled time when the questions facing both painters and artists are not by far of prime importance! This is their indisputable merit. There is Skira the brave publisher, and Courthion the Candide.
(…)
Partners whose quarrels have the accents of a Marivaux play. Their last concern is the main character who refuses to learn his dialogue, Matisse, himself the son of a merchant, notary clerk, father of a family, lonely and strong-minded, who became a painter in later life.
(…)
Far from being taciturn, however, Henri Matisse belongs to this generation, the last, where silence was golden, but the word was silver. Words had a meaning, a scope that would suddenly be cut off by the unpredictable outburst of communication, forever annihilating the conformism of rhetoric in favour of the talk show.
(…)
What was asked of him in those years when the spirit, the imagination, had disappeared from art galleries and bookstores.
Perhaps far from the apparent confusion of the world, people sought from him not only a lesson of will in the face of adversity, but also, more precious still, the hope of the mornings that sing to the example of his triumph of time through his incomparable youth, as his friend and publisher Tériade used to say.
(…)
In that year 1941 Matisse miraculously survived a major surgery. It is in the boredom of a too long convalescence, far from his usual environment, when he has just left the pains of the flesh to find his all too familiar anguish of the next day, that the idea of such a work was born.
(…)
The initiators of this project are sincere and passionate about art at a particularly troubled time when the questions facing both painters and artists are not by far of prime importance! This is their indisputable merit. There is Skira the brave publisher, and Courthion the Candide.
(…)
Partners whose quarrels have the accents of a Marivaux play. Their last concern is the main character who refuses to learn his dialogue, Matisse, himself the son of a merchant, notary clerk, father of a family, lonely and strong-minded, who became a painter in later life.
(…)
Far from being taciturn, however, Henri Matisse belongs to this generation, the last, where silence was golden, but the word was silver. Words had a meaning, a scope that would suddenly be cut off by the unpredictable outburst of communication, forever annihilating the conformism of rhetoric in favour of the talk show.
(…)
What was asked of him in those years when the spirit, the imagination, had disappeared from art galleries and bookstores.
Perhaps far from the apparent confusion of the world, people sought from him not only a lesson of will in the face of adversity, but also, more precious still, the hope of the mornings that sing to the example of his triumph of time through his incomparable youth, as his friend and publisher Tériade used to say.
(…)
It is these moments captured on the fly, timeless, that give Gossip its true raison d'être. It places us in the action stripped of all artifice in the manner of the fabulist La Fontaine: "I was there, such and such a thing happened to me".
(…)
From the pleasant anecdote arises and shines that precious and so rare thing that is the accuracy of the facts.
(…)
Gradually the innocuous flow of his own conversation ceased to be a relaxation for Matisse, but became the subject of all that he wished to avoid: being distracted from work that had been abandoned for too long and that haunting fear of the blank canvas.
(…)
Today the forgotten spring, almost dried up, brings fresh water to the reading. This gossip will become more and more precious. Through his encounters, through events, through the blossoming of his work, Matisse alone can span three centuries!
(Excerpts from the preface of the book - Claude Duthuit)
The authors
Pierre Courthion (1902-1988) is one of the greatest art critics of the twentieth century.
Serge Guilbaut teaches Art History at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and shares his knowledge of modern and contemporary art through multiple essays.

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