Text: Michael J. Deas, “Henri Matisse,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 128-130 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 128:]

Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe by Henry Matisse

The renowned French post-impressionist painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) completed this etching of Poe about 1932, at the request of the Swiss publisher Albert Skira. One of twenty-nine etchings executed by Matisse to illustrate Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé (Lausanne: A. Skira et Cie, 1932), the arabesque portrait accompanied Mallarme’s poem “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.”

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 61)
Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe
 
[Illustration on page 129]

Skira had first approached Matisse with the idea of illustrating a new edition of Mallarmé’s poems in 1930. The sixty-one-year-old Matisse accepted the invitation with enthusiasm, and between 1930 and 1932 produced some sixty-six preparatory studies for the book, including two sketches of Poe derived from a nineteenth-century engraving of the “Stella” daguerreotype (fig. 60) The completed likeness (fig. 61) served as a pendant portrait to Matisse’s well-known etching of Charles Baudelaire, used to illustrate Mallarmé’s poem “Le Tombeau de Baudelaire”

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 60)
Engraving by Frderick Warne & Co.
 
[Illustration on page 128]

Matisse felt that his greatest challenge in illustrating the Poésies was to create a harmonious balance between the pages of printed text and the facing illustrations. He later remarked, “As for my first [illustrated] book — the poems of Mallarmé . . . The right-hand pages carrying the full-page illustrations were placed opposite left-hand pages which carry the text in 20-point Garamond italic. The problem was then to balance the two pages — one white, with the etching, and one comparatively black, with the printing.”(136) To execute the finished plates, Matisse chose a sapphire point for his etching needle — notable for producing quick, incisive lines on the copper etching plate. As Matisse ­[page 130:] recalled, “Some etchings [were] done in an even, very thin line, without shading, so that the printed page is almost as white as it was before the etching was printed.”(137)

Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé was printed in Paris in October 1932, in an edition limited to a total of 145 copies. Of these, 30 copies were printed on imperial Japanese vellum, and 95 on hand-made d’Arches vellum. An additional 20 were produced hors commerce.(138) American distribution of the book was handled by the Marie Harriman Gallery in New York but, due to the Great Depression, copies sold slowly.(139)

Nevertheless, the curator of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, hailed the Poésies as “one of the most beautiful illustrated books ever printed.”(140) Matisse himself was pleased with the finished volume, commenting, “After concluding these illustrations . . . I would like to simply state: This is the work I have done after having read Mallarmé with pleasure.”(141) In 1932 the book’s maquette — comprising Matisse’s original sketches, working proofs, and canceled etching plates — was acquired by Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore. The maquette, which also includes two preliminary studies of Poe, is now part of the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (Henri Matisse)