Henri Matisse, James Joyce


The Limited Editions Club


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The iconic modernist book, signed by Matisse, is one of the great editions of one of the great books.

  • James Joyce (Irish).
  • Illustrations by Henri Matisse (French).
  • Introduction by Stuart Gilbert (English).
  • New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1935.
  • 363, [1] pages.
  • Illustrated with six etchings and 20 tipped-in drawings on blue and yellow paper.
  • Limited edition of 1,500 numbered copies signed by Matisse, this being number 1,264.
  • Bound in original brown Bancroft buckram with gilt globe stamped to front board.
  • Housed in a custom quarter leather over black cloth archival clamshell box with gilt title spine.

Joyce's masterpiece, in the deluxe edition published after the 1933 landmark ruling in the case of United States v. One Book Called Ulysses. Eleven years after the book's initial publication, a US court affirmed that in the matter of obscenity, One Book Called Ulysses had soundly defeated the United States, and immediately thereafter, Limited Editions Club founder George Macy began to plan what would be a monumental achievement: a landmark among Matisse's livres d'artiste, reproducing his preparatory drawings alongside the final soft-ground etchings; the only illustrated Ulysses with an introduction that Joyce allowed to be published; and the most accurate text of the novel published in the US until 1961.

In the early days of the project, believing that the artist "[knew] the French translation very well" and only wanted for an idea of the Irish context, Joyce proposed to send him an illustrated Dublin Weekly of 1904 for visual reference. But Matisse had no interest in the specificities of Ireland, and, though his drawings were organized around the Odyssey itself, barely more interest in the specificities of Greece (the two struggling women of his "Calypso," Hillary Spurling suggests, were "an image that had more to do with the artist's own home life that summer than with either Joyce or Homer"). Seeing the sample drawings, George Macy began to plea for some connection, any connection between image and text: "While we understand, and admire, the idea by which the plates are to be illustrative of Homer's Odyssey, it is essential that the incidents of the Odyssey which are illustrated must also make reference to incidents in Joyce's book." This was no way to speak to a great artist. Matisse responded by matching his drawings to individual chapters without explanation, saying only that they represented "reactions of my mind before Joyce's work" and, by the way, "Mr. James Joyce, who knows about the way I am illustrating his book, quite agrees with me on it." This would perhaps have been news to Mr. James Joyce, whose best-known comment on the finished product was: "If they had been signed L.J. [Lucia Joyce] instead of H.M. people would have had a different tale to tell. I am only too painfully aware that Lucia has no future but that does not prevent me from seeing the difference between what is beautiful and shapely and what is ugly and shapeless. As usual I am in a minority of one."

Setting aside Joyce's opinion, Matisse's work may be viewed as conceptually linked to his own: not illustrations in any conventional sense, but a parallel artistic project, a second great modernist manipulation of the Odyssey. Another plausible interpretation of Matisse's drawings understands them as a response not to the text but to "the critical apparatus that developed around the novel during the 1930s" (Brown), and specifically to Stuart Gilbert's perceptive introduction. As for contemporary reception, members of the Limited Editions Club expressed one of three reactions: A vile book, dressed up with great art; a great book, ruined by "crackpot drawings"; or a magnificent work, the expression of "perfect rapport among author, illustrator and designer." The third judgment has held up quite well. Luca Crispi, "A French Homer in America: James Joyce, Henri Matisse, and the Limited Editions Club "Ulysses;" Willard Goodwin, "A Very Pretty Picture M. Matisse But You Must Not Call It Joyce": The Making of the Limited Editions Club "Ulysses"; Kathryn Brown, Matisse's Poets: Critical Performance in the Artist's Book.

Condition Report

Star iconVery Good
Like New

Slipcase with light expert restoration at edges.

Some rubbing and soiling overall.

Book just starting at top of rear hinge, but firm.


Height: 11.75 inches / 29.84 cm
Width: 9 inches / 22.86 cm




Novels, English literature and history, Fine bindings, Art, Illustrated

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