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A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour: 1909-1954
By Hilary Spurling


By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 11 OCTOBER 2005—Hilary Spurling's second volume of her biography of Henri Matisse is a distinguished achievement for its meticulous research as well as its narrative skill. The earlier volume, The Unknown Matisse examined his life and work up until his Fauve paintings of the beginning of the 20th century.
The second volume covers the remainder of Matisse's life. The experimental period from 1909 through World War I gives way to the Nice paintings of the 1920s and 1930s, the haunting self-doubt and disturbing misgivings and accusations of fraud by his colleagues. Then the famous paper cut-outs, the family traumas and Resistance activities of the Second World War are, finally, followed by recognition for Matisse's unique and sensual exploration of colour and light, a period which lasted until the end of his life in his studio at Cimiez in 1954. 
Thanks to the Matisse archives of family correspondence, Spurling is particularly adept in her evocation of Matisse's character and family life, notably in the elucidation of the life-long complicity and its rough edges with his wife Amélie—mostly due to the incessant, and often baseless, speculation about Matisse's relationship with his models. And her account leaves little room for doubt that, while Matisse doted on his family, painting came first, and his wife, often-ill daughter Marguérite, and two sons Pierre and Jean were all enlisted in the family firm of Matisse Inc.
Equally satisfying is Spurling's depiction of Matisse's relationship with  exotic locales, foreign collectors, theorists and supporters, the art market and the French painter's love of music.
While cognizant of Matisse's aestheic concerns and the development of modernism, Spurling writes as a biographer rather than an art historian. The result is a strong narrative without maudlin sentiment that effortlessly engages the reader's attention from the first page to the last.

Matisse the Master : A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour: 1909-1954
by Hilary Spurling
Hardcover 544 pages
Alfred Knopf,  New York (6 September 2005)
ISBN: 0679434291

Related News:  Museum of Modern Art Acquires Painting by Henri Matisse

Exhibition Review: Matisse - Picasso


Antoine du Rocher is managing editor of  

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