Henri Matisse’s Illustrations for Joyce’s Ulysses
The inspiring vision of an epic repeated in each of us every day.
In 1935, the painter, Henri Matisse, received a commission to illustrate an exclusive edition of the novel, Ulysses, by the Irishman, James Joyce. The edition was to consist of one thousand copies, signed by the artist and 250 of them signed by Joyce. When these books turn up on the market today, they generally start out at prices between $7,000 and $9,000 USD.
The book remains a cult object for art collectors and for followers of the legacy James Joyce. Among these is Maria Popova, who described the volume as “a glorious leather-bound tome with 22-karat gold accents, gilt edges, moire fabric endpapers, and a satin page marker.”
But one can’t really speak of a true collaboration between the painter and the writer, because while one of the first translations of the Ulysses had been into French, Matisse had not read the book he illustrated.
In the history of illustrated books – we think, for example, of Doré’s engravings of Don Quixote, images as a sort of visual translation of the literary universe onto the page. But for this edition of Ulysses, Matisse decided to go directly to one of Joyce’s sources: in Homer’s Odyssey.
While there is much talk of the greatness of Ulysses, the truth is that few adventurers conclude any careful reading of it. Pierre Bayard warned of something like this in his own book, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. One can “feel perfectly comfortable when Ulysses comes up in conversation […] I know, for example, that it is a retelling of the Odyssey, that its narrative takes the form of a stream of consciousness, that its action unfolds in Dublin in the course of a single day, etc.”
In this sense, Matisse – who incidentally also illustrated an edition of Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil – had even an advantage over other Joyce non-readers: he was a Masterful draftsman. Relying directly on his own imaginative resources, his drawings are less literal illustrations to accompany Joyce’s words but rather a correlative, reinterpretation of Homer. In this sense, the Joyce text is accompanied, without having been interfered with and without limiting the possibility of readers’ interpretations of the book. In the manner of Buck Mulligan, the unanswered questions of Stephen Dedalus pose entirely new scenarios and landscapes.
Thus, the extravagance of this edition goes beyond it precise and careful publication: it’s not merely a luxury object for collectors, but a true piece of art, extended and taking the ancient Greek epic as its starting point. Striving in two ways, it is a journey – one with words, another through drawings – of a man’s return home.
Pictorial spiritism (a woman's drawings guided by a spirit)
There are numerous examples in the history of self-taught artists which suggest an interrogation of that which we take for granted within the universe of art. Such was the case with figures like
Astounding fairytale illustrations from Japan
Fairy tales tribal stories— are more than childish tales. Such fictions, the characters of which inhabit our earliest memories, aren’t just literary works with an aesthetic and pleasant purpose. They
A cinematic poem and an ode to water: its rhythms, shapes and textures
Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. - John Keats Without water the equation of life, at least life as we know it, would be impossible. A growing hypothesis holds that water, including the
Watch beauty unfold through science in this "ode to a flower" (video)
The study of the microscopic is one of the richest, most aesthetic methods of understanding the world. Lucky is the scientist who, upon seeing something beautiful, is able to see all of the tiny
To invent those we love or to see them as they are? Love in two of the movies' favorite scenes
So much has been said already, of “love” that it’s difficult to add anything, much less something new. It’s possible, though, perhaps because even if you try to pass through the sieve of all our
This app allows you to find and preserve ancient typographies
Most people, even those who are far removed from the world of design, are familiar with some type of typography and its ability to transform any text, help out dyslexics or stretch an eight page paper
The secrets of the mind-body connection
For decades medical research has recognized the existence of the placebo effect — in which the assumption that a medication will help produces actual physical improvements. In addition to this, a
The sea as infinite laboratory
Much of our thinking on the shape of the world and the universe derives from the way scientists and artists have approached these topics over time. Our fascination with the mysteries of the
Sharing and collaborating - natural movements of the creative being
We might sometimes think that artistic or creative activity is, in essence, individualistic. The Genesis of Judeo-Christian tradition portrays a God whose decision to create the world is as vehement
John Malkovich becomes David Lynch (and other characters)
John Malkovich and David Lynch are, respectively, the actor and film director who’ve implicitly or explicitly addressed the issues of identity and its porous barriers through numerous projects. Now