An original linocut printed in black ink on Arches wove paper bearing the “MARTIN FABIANI” watermark. This is a richly printed impression of the definitive state from the edition of 200 on this paper (the overall edition was 250). One of 18 full page linocut plates (apart from the cover and many designs and illuminations in the text also created in linocut) illustrating the Henry de Montherlant text Pasiphaé: Chant de Minos (Les Crétois), with the plate title printed in letterpress below the image lower right. Published by Martin Fabiani, Paris, 1944; printed by Marthe Fequet and Pierre Baudier, Paris, May 20, 1944.
Matisse’s attention to this contemporary retelling of the story of Pasiphaé and the Minoan bull was the impetus for one of his most intensive printmaking periods. Using linoleum, he cut many blocks of each image to perfect the flowing lines and relationship of forms. He successfully captured the spirit of the classic tale by drawing on images from ancient Greek black-figure pottery. The linoleum cut medium ideally displayed the bold images of white lines on a black background.
Though the tale inspiring Matisse's many linocut images is part of classical Greek mythology, it was its contemporary poetic reinterpretation by Henry de Montherlant that became the framework from which the artist worked. Montherlant was a rigorous and elegant French stylist whose work embodies a resolutely aristocratic and masculine point of view. Montherlant (born in April, 1896, died in September, 1972, by his own hand) gained his initial reputation as the author of such cruelly ironic novels as The Bullfighters (1926), The Bachelors (1934), Young Girls (1936), and Pity for Women (1936), the last two of which formed part of a novel cycle. His later dramatic works, dealing with historical and religious themes include Queen After Death (1942), Port-Royal (1954) and Civil War (1965). Montherlant was elected to the Academie Francaise in 1960.
In Greek mythology, Pasiphaé was the daughter of Helios and Perseis, and the sister of Circe. She married Minos, the King of Crete, and bore him Ariadne and Phaedra, among others. Minos, along with his twin brother Rhadamanthus, was the son of Europa, who had been impregnated by Zeus in the guise of a white bull. After becoming the king of Crete with the aid of Poseidon, Minos used his powerful navy to rule over his extensive Agean empire. The Minoan civilization, which flourished on Crete from about 3000 to 1450 B.C., was subsequently given his name; and the palace at Knossos, excavated by archaeologists in the early 20th century, is popularly thought to be his palace. After his marriage to Pasiphaé, Minos asked Poseidon for a bull to sacrifice in honor of Zeus and Europa. Poseidon gave him a fine white one, but Minos substituted a lesser animal for the sacrificial rite. Enraged, Poseidon caused Pasiphaé to fall in love with the white bull. The offspring of their union was the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-human monster that ate human flesh. Minos confined the deadly Minotaur, and by some accounts Pasiphaé as well, in an elaborate labyrinth built by Daedalus. For this, Pasiphaé cursed Minos so that all women would die after intercourse with him. Minos forced the Athenians to send seven young men and seven young women at regular intervals as a sacrifice to the Minotaur. Eventually, Theseus, one of the intended victims, killed the Minotaur and eloped with Minos' daughter Ariadne. The killing of this creature by Theseus is interpreted as symbolizing the political freedom won by Athens after years of paying tribute to Crete. Minos imprisoned Daedalus for helping Theseus and Ariadne run away, but Daedalus escaped. Minos pursued Daedalus and finally found him in Sicily. Daedalus was eventually successful in defeating Minos who, after his death joined his brother Rhadamanthus as judges of the underworld.
Catalogue reference: Claude Duthuit no. 10 XI. Literature regarding this artwork: William S. Lieberman, Matisse. 50 Years of His Graphic Art, George Braziller, New York, 1956, pp. 144-145; Eleanor M. Garvey, The Artist The Book 1860-1960: In Western Europe and the United States, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1982, no. 198, p. 139; Robert Flynn Johnson, Artist’s Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000: The Reva and David Logan Collection of Illustrated Books, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2001, no. 102.
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