We previously featured Henri Matisse’s illustrations for a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. If the Odyssey-themed etchings he did for that book surprised you, have a look at his illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal, first published in 1857. (…) he went an even more unconventional route this time, accompanying Baudelaire’s poems with nothing but portraiture.
The edition’s 33 portraits, including one of Matisse himself and one of Baudelaire, capture a variety of subjects, mostly women — also a source of inspiration for the poet. However, as the site that bears his name makes clear, “Matisse did not indulge in the biographical fallacies of the literary critics of his day who attempted to understand Baudelaire by associating each poem with the woman who may have inspired it. Thus, his gallery of facial portraits provides an accompaniment rather than an imitative rendition of selected poems.” Would that more illustrators of literature follow his example and make a break from pure literalism, allowing the meaning of the relationship between text and image to cohere in the reader-viewer’s mind. You might say that Matisse pioneered, in other words, the most poetic possible method of illustrating poetry. (…)
If you want to buy one of the 300 copies with Matisse’s illustrations, you will have to shell out about $7500. / open culture (mit Beispielen)