The book as art

Henri Matisse | France 1869 — 1954 | Fée au chapeau de clarté. Souvenir du Mallarmé 1933 | Drypoint on Velin Arches paper | Collection: Bibliothèque nationale de France | Réf Duthuit : 234 | © Succession H Matisse/Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011

In an age when an increasing number of people are consuming books and texts electronically via screens, the book as object has come to occupy a unique role.

The particularly twentieth—century phenomenon of high—end book production by publishers such as Ambroise Vollard, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Albert Skira and Tériade (Stratis Eleftheriades) is broadly known as the livre d’artiste (Artist’s book). Picasso, Matisse, André Derain, Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and other major artists of the first half of the twentieth century produced exquisitely illustrated books on fine papers in limited editions. Today they are considered as important components of their life’s work and often as much sought after by collectors as their paintings, prints and sculpture. Such artists not only produced illustrations to existing poetic or literary works but often introduced an additional level of interpretation and appreciation of familiar texts.

Matisse was 60 years old when Albert Skira commissioned him to illustrate the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. It was Matisse’s first publishing project and he prepared by familiarising himself completely with Mallarmés poetry. The publication is featured as one of 10 illustrated books in the ‘Matisse: Drawing Life‘ exhibition, and stands as a testament to how sensitively Matisse responded to the spare, evocative poetry of Mallarmé. The purity of Matisse’s line drawing in the 29 etchings comprising the book are in perfect harmony and balance with the font, the white space of the japanese paper and the layout of words on the pages.