Most people have probably heard of the great French artist Henri Matisse, or even seen his renowned paintings, but unless you’re a fan of art history, that’s probably about all that you know of him or his life — which would be, as we discovered through this book, a real shame.
Henri’s Scissors is a beautiful biography of the artist, offering not just a glimpse into his creative and artistic genius, but also his indomitable spirit and inner strength.
What’s most fascinating about this book is that the author has chosen to focus not on Matisse’s most artistically prolific years as a painter, but rather, the later stages of his life when he fell ill and was often bedridden. Instead of giving up on his work or resting, as most people would do, Matisse continued to work from his bed, even drawing with a pencil or charcoal attached to the end of a long pole, so that he could reach the paper or canvas — such was his determination to continue creating. It was also during this time that Matisse explored a new form of art by using a pair of scissors — hence the book title — to cut big, flowing, curvilinear shapes inspired by nature, from coloured paper, and pasting them onto wall-sized sheets.
The author has masterfully condensed Matisse’s story such that it is accessible to children yet still informative enough for adults; she also weaves in actual quotes from Matisse, which gives the reader a more immediate and tangible sense of the artist’s thoughts and feelings. The colourful illustrations in the book — a good number of which are reproductions of Matisse’s actual artworks — are a treat to look at, and the deceptively simple paper cutouts provide inspiration for children to create their own works of art. But most of all, this is a great book about an extraordinary artist — he trained as a lawyer! — whose story will inspire anyone to emulate his lifelong passion for his work and his zest for life.
Don’t miss this BBC video which features one of Matisse’s last big projects, which he accomplished at the grand old age of 81: designing an entire chapel from the ground up — the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, also known as Matisse’s Chapel, which he hailed as “the crowning achievement” of his amazing career.