Matisse's Letters

Correspondence with Andre Rouveyre

from:
Indepth Arts News:
"Matisse: A Second Life"
2005-08-12 until 2005-12-04
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Humlebaek, DK

"André Rouveyre

A drawing of André Rouveyre
by Matisse

The most beautiful correspondence of the 20th century – Matisse and André Rouveyre ... tells the story of a significant friendship. In the years 1941-1954 Matisse engaged in a unique correspondence with André Rouveyre the French satirical draughtsman and writer(1879-1962), in which his ongoing production and innovation are reflected and refracted. Matisse and Rouveyre met as young students at the École des Beaux- Arts in Paris at the end of the 1890s, but the courses of their lives quickly became very different, and their paths diverged to a great extent over the subsequent years. Only when they coincidentally met again during the war, after Matisse’s operation, did their close friendship develop. Despite the conspicuous differences between them, Rouveyre, as is evident from the correspondence, came to follow Matisse’s working process at close quarters.

The correspondence stands out from all others in its extent and frequency – for long periods they wrote to each other daily, sometimes several times a day – and in its abundance of drawings, sketches and decorated envelopes by Matisse. The letters, which are typified by intimacy and irresistible humor, speak of both the events of everyday life and Matisse’s work and thus provide us with unique insight into the artist’s creative process and his thoughts on his life and work.

The envelope of a letter to André
Rouveyre by Matisse

In 2001 Hanne Finsen edited the whole of this extensive correspondence – some 1200 letters – for the prestigious French publisher Flammarion. Matisse’s letters in the correspondence are today in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and it is this milestone publication that forms the backbone for the selection of works in the exhibition. The idea of the exhibition is to present the works mentioned in the letters in tandem with the reflections that bear them up. The idea of juxtaposing the correspondence of a great artist with the works mentioned there in an exhibition has never been tried before, but in Matisse’s case it seems an obvious and fruitful approach.

A letter to André Rouveyre, 13
December, 1948: "I am not inspired.
Nevertheless, my heart is with you."

Some of the first projects he plunged into after his convalescence were illustrations of books like the Florilège des Amours de Ronsard followed by the Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans, which are included in the exhibition with their preliminary studies, and in the latter case a uniquely beautiful maquette which has never been exhibited before. They enjoy an important position in the artist’s oeuvre of the later years, and the design of both books was discussed in depth with Rouveyre, who was a knowledgeable bibliophile and an expert on literature. In the correspondence we can also follow how Rouveyre and Matisse collaborated on several publications, above all Rouveyre’s novel Repli and his Apollinaire.... Rouveyre was also the privileged recipient of an important letter from Matisse at the beginning of June 1943 about “the birth of a tree in the mind of an artist”. It says a great deal about Matisse’s thinking, his efforts to emancipate his art from the imitative western tradition and instead to give expression only to his emotions and sense of enchantment as in Oriental art. The letter was originally accompanied by 21 drawings of trees, exhibited here for the first time – along with a couple of early drawings from 1939 and studies in a very large format of trees from 1951-52, done on the basis of the 21 small drawings.

Of course there was not the same close contact between the two friends when it came to Matisse’s painting, The subjects are still interiors, still lives and portraits, and it has been possible to gather important examples of his virtuoso painting from the late years for the exhibition.

After his convalescence was over, he went to work energetically on drawings, which led, in his own words, to a formidable “flowering” of his draughtsmanship. He was fully aware of the results he had achieved and decided to collect the drawings in a book, Thèmes et variations, published in 1943 with an introduction by Louis Aragon. The exhibition shows a large number of drawings ranging from the early Thèmes et variations series to the late portraits of Matisse’s grandchild Jacqueline.

The Cover of Jazz

The cover of Jazz (1947)

In the correspondence there is also an extended discussion of the epoch-making book Jazz (1947), where Matisse systematically used the paper cut-out technique for the first time. The book and the concurrently published album with the twenty co lour plates, only printed in a hundred copies, and a selection of his original paper cut-outs, are presented in the exhibition along with the four large compositions L’Océanie, la mer / L’Océanie, le ciel and Polynesie, la mer / Polynesie, le ciel (1946) executed as tapestries.

In time, as Matisse immersed himself more and more in the work with the Vence chapel, which he regarded as his masterpiece, the correspondence thinned out somewhat. Matisse’s letters became more infrequent and shorter. As we can see from the correspondence, the artist did not stop here with his masterpiece.

Misc. Letters

An extract from a letter to Aragon dated 22 August 1943: "I have been in Vence for a month and a half and everything is fine in all respects. Beautiful landscape, on the road to Saint Jeannet, a village which always makes me think of Baudelaire's 'La Geante': "To fall asleep in the shadow of her breastes, like a quite hamlet at the foot of a mountain."

Here I am in Bohain with my family, which is almost like my birthplace. But unfortunately, our views are not always in accord, which disturbs me considerably my work, for which I require the most complete calm and from those how surround me, a serenity that I cannot find here. I intend to move to a village a few league away.
1903

I am certainly a romantic, but with a good scientific and rationalist half: thus, from this conflict I sometimes come out victorious, but exhausted.
to Charles 1914

You probably know that the poor Madame Matisse was sentenced to six months in jail. In as much as regards me, I though I had gone through every sufferance physical and moral. And yet not! I had to undergo this last trial. I dare not think of Magriute of whom we know nothing. We don't even know where she is. I am down, and for three months I have worked as much as possible. I am exhausted and now I have to recharge my batteries. I have been in bed for a week, with my liver upset, fearing a setback of my gallbladder condition that last year brought me a hair away from an operation.  I certainly would not have tolerated that. So my old friend, I have to paint with or withstanding such problems.
to Camoin 1944

I desire pleasure. I am not a revolutionary by principle. I was educated in an entirely different manner.
to Rayssinguier

My mother liked everything I did. It is from her affection for her that I always drew what theory failed to offer me per finish the painting.
to Rayssinguier

André Rouveyre

Matisse and André Rouveyre met as young students at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris at the end of the 1890s, but the courses of their lives quickly became very different, and their paths diverged to a great extent over the subsequent years. Only when they coincidentally met again during the war, after Matisse’s operation, did their close friendship develop. Despite the conspicuous differences between them, Rouveyre, as is evident from the correspondence, came to follow Matisse’s working process at close quarters.

The lengthy correspondence with the writer André Rouveyre began with a serious operation Matisse underwent in 1941 and ends with his death in 1954, a period of 13 years during which there was an extraordinary blossoming of his art. Rouveyre was a novelist and artist dreaded for his cruel portraits, and an old friend from Matisse's student days. These letters (almost 1200 of them) provide unprecedented insight into Matisse's creative process and artistic aspirations, at a time when he was redefining his modes of expression. Many are adorned with drawings and decorations, at the time they relate to his current production of oils , drawings, illustrated books, tapestries, stained-glass window maquettes, and large and small gouache cut-outs.