Henri Matisse: Meet the Artist!

Image of Henri Matisse: Meet the Artist
Release Date: 
November 4, 2014
Princeton Architectural Press (Adult)
Reviewed by: 

"The most engaging, inventive, interactive nonfiction children's book this year!"

Just when I thought there was nothing new going on in children's book formats these days, Henri Matisse: Meet the Artist! comes into my life. And there it is: true interaction with pop-ups, lift-flaps, cut-outs, pull tabs, windows, and picture frames coupled with an interesting text and lovely images. And horror of horrors, there are two other books in this Meet the Artist! series that came out earlier this year by the same creator, Patricia Geis: Alexander Calder: Meet the Artist! and Pablo Picasso: Meet the Artist! and I missed them!

So what is so marvelous about this book? First of all, the text, about the life of Henri Matisse, both inside and outside his studio, is told in a way that is easy to digest as the series is written for elementary aged children 7–12. And while we get to delve inside the experiences of Matisse as he explores painting, then color, then cutouts, then sculpture, and more, we also get context about the art world and what was going on around him at the time.

The text also gives off a slight accent, obviously translated from the original Spanish, with delightful turns of phrase that are clearly not ordinary American English. It's like a fun, painless, enticing mini art history lesson given to us by an exciting art teacher who imparts the information in an enchanting accent—such that adults will enjoy reading this book as much as children. Truly.

Second are the images. We are treated to no fewer than 25 of Matisse's paintings, from iconic, vibrant images that seem nearly three-dimensional in their verve like "Dance II" to the lesser-known "Still Life with Books and Candle" from his early, Academy of Fine Arts days. These paintings more often reside beneath or on lift-flaps with sayings attributed to the artist such as: "From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves." and "A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave."

Third, the interactive, paper-engineered elements make the art actually lift off the page both figuratively and literally, which removes any sense of flatness and brings more life into the art itself. There is a degree of whimsy to the interactivity as well. About a third of the way into the book we come across a reddish-orange cutout of a fish that can be removed from the page. We are also invited to create our own "gouaches découpées" with a piece of paper provided for the endeavor. Another spread treats us to a series of paintings in a booklet hidden behind a pair of shutters, framed in such a way as to create an actual opened box on the page.

At the end of the book we learn through this examination of Matisse's art that he and Picasso "changed the direction of painting in the twentieth century" by competing against one another while simultaneously revering one another. Henri Matisse is to have said, "Only one person has the right to criticize me: Picasso." To which Picasso replied, "All things considered, there is only Matisse." 

If you want to buy a book this holiday season that will delight anyone who has the slightest interest in art, Henri Matisse: Meet the Artist! is the one. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get Princeton Architectural Press to send me the other two titles in this wonderful series.