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Exhibition of art books by French artist Henri Matisse opens at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery

October 25, 2011

Henri Matisse, The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown (detail). © Succession H. Matisse / DACS 2011.

LIVERPOOL.- The Walker Art Gallery presents an exhibition of art books by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Henri Matisse (1869-1954). The Art Books of Henri Matisse goes on display from 21 October 2011 to 15 April 2012.

These works are part of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s extensive art collection, and have been loaned to the Gallery through the company’s Art in our Communities® programme as part of a commitment to share its artworks with the wider public.

The exhibition comprises 63 framed original illustrations with text from four of Matisse’s most significant books, including his famous Jazz (1947), one of the most celebrated artists’ books in the history of modern art.

In addition to the core group of Matisse works, a number of artists’ books from the Walker Art Gallery’s permanent collection will also be on view, by artists such as Ed Ruscha, Derek Boshier, Gilbert & George, Tom Phillips and Jeff Nuttall.

Best known for his boldly coloured paintings, Matisse created a body of work that also included drawings, prints, cut-outs and sculpture, as well as costume and stage set designs. He began painting at the age of 20 when his mother bought him art supplies during a period of convalescence following an attack of appendicitis. He did not begin his work with illustrated books until his late sixties, but the same flowing lines that characterised his oils and pencil studies carried over to the printmaking medium. Out of his vast body of work it was his illustrations that Matisse was most proud of and he used ever more imaginative means to create them, such as paper cut-out, a technique he invented. In 1954, at the age of 84, Matisse died but it is reported that he had continued creating paper cut-out works until the day of his death.

Director of Art Galleries Reyahn King says: “We are very grateful to Bank of America Merrill Lynch for lending this exhibition to the Walker Art Gallery. It is both an important and beautiful collection and we are delighted to show it. We are also pleased to have this opportunity to exhibit our own fascinating collection of art books alongside those of Henri Matisse.”

Bank of America’s European credit card arm, Bank of America Europe Card Services, is based in Chester in the North West of England.

Ian O’Doherty, the company’s Europe Card Executive, says: “We are delighted to make Matisse’s illustrated books available to the Walker Art Gallery’s visitors. Our company proudly supports the arts through the provision of grants and sponsorship. We also loan our art collection to museums and non-profit galleries at no cost so they can generate vital revenue, which contributes to the growth of local economies. We’re especially pleased to be working with the Walker Art Gallery as it is an acclaimed institution and such a short distance from our Chester headquarters.”

Rena De Sisto, Global Arts and Culture executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch adds: “We are thrilled this exhibition will have its first UK display in Liverpool. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch, we strive to give people around the world access to great art and through our Art in Our Communities® programme we have lent over 40 exhibitions to museums and galleries around the world. Institutions such as the Walker are an intrinsic part – both economically and culturally – of the communities they serve, and their role in creating a more culturally aware society cannot be overstated.”

The four Matisse art books featured in the exhibition are Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé, 1932; Pasiphaé-Chant de Minos (les Crétois), 1944; Jazz, 1947, and Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans, 1950.

Jazz (1947): Matisse’s most famous book is one of the most celebrated artists’ books in the history of modern art. It features one of the artist’s most widely reproduced images – the iconic illustration of Icarus as a languid black figure with a red circle at his heart, plunging downwards against a royal blue night sky, surrounded by yellow stars. Jazz was conceived as a sequence of stencil prints inspired by Matisse’s cut-out forms and based on his exploration of colour and shape. He paired the images with his musings on life and art. The appearance of Jazz in portfolio format, as opposed to a bound book, allowed it to be displayed on walls rather than stored in cases or on bookshelves. This not only contributed to its desirability as a collectable item but increased its exposure. It left a lasting impression on Matisse’s contemporaries and on future generations of artists who also created books as unique works of art.

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