Poems - Poèmes

Artist’s Name
Author’s Name
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Charles of Orleans (1391-1465)
1950, Paris
Printed in one volume, size 41,5 x 27,5 εκ.
Manuscript of Henri Matisse
100 coloured lithographs by Mourlot under the supervision of Matisse
Printed on ‘vélin d’ Arches’ paper:
  • 1200 copies, numbered 1-1200
  • 30 copies, off the market, numbered I-XXX
The important French modern artist, Henri Matisse, had the brilliant idea to illustrate a series of about forty lyrical medieval poems of the Frenchman Charles of Orleans. These allegorical love poems had deeply touched him and he considered them particularly important and everlasting. He began to illustrate them in the winter of 1942 and he completed them in 1943. From the very beginning, Tériade had agreed to publish these sensitive poems. After seven years, he succeeded in publishing this book thanks to photolithography. It was the only technique that would be able to show these pages to their full potential.

Matisse chose some poems in random order and he organized them in such a way that one would follow the other according to its meaning. He then copied them with black ink and beautiful calligraphic letters on pages that he had decorated with simple, coloured drawings. His intention was that the drawing that accompanies each poem should depict the relevant impression of the text, meaning the simplicity, the deep emotion and the expressiveness of internal feelings. In general, all the illustrations are based on the personal view of Matisse. According to his words, “A book should not need mimetic illustrations. The painter and the author should work together without crossing each other’s path, but parallel to each other. The drawing should correspond to the poem artistically”.

The illustration of this book begins with a portrait of the poet, which characterizes his personality and brings the viewer closer to the poet and his work. This portrait is not the result of Matisse’s imagination; it is rather a careful composition of the basic characteristics that inspired him from photographs and paintings of the family members of Charles. Following the same line of thought and, in order to pass on a relevant impression with that of the poem, he illustrates a series of female figures, which correspond to the protagonists in the love scenes.

However, the basic motif Matisse uses is the lily, a heraldic symbol of French monarchy, since he believes it was something very familiar to Charles of Orleans and it perfectly expresses the personality of the poet as well as the atmosphere of his poems and his time. The lily of the escutcheon of the kings of France is repeated in countless variations at the mirroring pages of the book. It becomes the major design on which the whole book is based. Each time, the lilies compose a different image; they become birds and different kinds of leaves, depending on the inspiration of the painter.