Matisse Portraits


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John Klein


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The devotion of Henri Matisse to the human figure led him to make portraits of many different sitters—members of his family, fellow artists, professionals in other fields, patrons, and various others. At key points in his career, he was also an obsessive observer of himself, creating intense series of self-portraits. This pioneering book, with some 200 stunning illustrations, offers the first comprehensive account of Matisse’s activity as a maker of portraits and self-portraits.

Matisse scholar John Klein goes beyond standard approaches to portraiture that focus on questions of likeness and expression of character. He considers the transaction that produces a portrait—a transaction between the artist and the sitter (even when the sitter is oneself) that is social as much as artistic. Klein investigates the various social contexts of Matisse’s sitters and finds that differences among these contexts produced different kinds of portraits and self-portraits with different goals. This was in part due to the personal and social identity of the sitter, but partly also to Matisse’s self-perception with respect to the sitter and his goal of engaging the genre as a mode of personal expression. Klein also addresses the vexing question of whether depictions of hired models can be considered as portraits and concludes that they lack the social context that is necessary to portraiture. Through the psychological and contextual examination of Matisse’s portraits and self-portraits, Klein throws new light on an important body of work by this influential artist. The author also discusses the portrait practice of some of Matisse’s contemporaries—Picasso, Kirchner, Bonnard, Vallotton, and Boldini—to develop fresh insights into the status of portraiture within twentieth-century art as a whole.

John Klein is associate professor of art history at University of Missouri-Columbia.

“Highly recommended for academic and art school collections, as well as true art aficionados with an interest in the work of Henri Matisse.”—Bookwatch

“Matisse was a prolific and adventurous portraitist. He was also as prolific a self-portraitist as van Gogh or Picassso. Mr. Klein analyzes both the form and content of Matisse’s portraits as well as the role they played in his career. . . . A valuable addition to the Matisse literature.”—Wall Street Journal (Gift Guide)

“Klein provides a novel approach to understanding one of the 20th century’s most important artists as well as a fresh definition of a heretofore ill-defined genre.”—Library Journal

“[A] fresh psychological view of one aspect of Henri Matisse’s body of work.”—Terry Michael, Victoria

“Brilliant reproductions are enriched by old photographs and sketches from Matisse’s notebooks.”—Toronto Globe & Mail

“Mr. Klein is original in providing this first comprehensive account of Matisse as a portraitist who painted an intense series of self-portraits, as well as pictures of his family, fellow painters, patrons, professionals in different spheres, and others. Innovative, Matisse created private worlds of sensation. . . . [A] beautifully produced book.”—Byron Ireland, Day by Day

“A comprehensive survey and analysis of the artwork of Henri Matisse. . . . Matisse Portraits is more than an art book—it is an art appreciation book, filled with discourse and thoughtful analysis. Highly recommended for academic and art school collections, as well as true art aficionados with an interest in the work of Henri Matisse.”—Midwest Book Review

“This is a smart, splendid volume on an overlooked body of work from a 20th-century master.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“John Klien’s book . . . is thoroughly researched and well illustrated, and successfully brings into focus a very important aspect of the artist’s work.”—Nicholas Watkins, Art Quarterly

“Extremely impressive and amply illustrated. . . . [This] book is thoroughly researched and well organised, and, with its abundant illustrations, highly coveted.”—Richard Shone, The Guardian

“Klein offers a meticulously considered discourse treating the legacy of Matisse’s ventures into portraiture. . . . A complex and challenging presentation, thoroughly documented and attractively illustrated. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through professionals.”—Choice

“Klein’s book is exemplary in its scholarship and its presentation. . . . It is easy to appreciate now that, like Picasso, Matisse belongs to the main Western tradition; and, in language that usually avoids the jargon of professional art historians, Klein makes a serious case for Matisse’s intellectual achievement within that tradition.”—Timothy Wilson-Smith, The Tablet

Named one of the Best of the Year 2001 by the Globe and Mail (Toronto).
ISBN: 9780300081008
Publication Date: October 11, 2001
300 pages, 9 3/4 x 11 3/8
106 b/w + 100 color illus.