Henri Matisse
Pasiphaé

 

The Greek Myth: Queen Pasiphaé
Trouble began on the island of Crete when King Minos refused to sacrifice a handsome white bull to the sea god Poseidon. To punish Minos, Poseidon cursed Pasiphaé, Minos' beautiful wife, with a passion for the bull. Driven mad with desire, Pasiphaé mated with the bull and gave birth to the half-bull, half-human creature known as the Minotaur.


Rendezvous in Nice
In 1940, the French author Henry de Montherlant posed for a portrait by Matisse and used the sessions to propose a collaboration. Matisse admired de Montherlant's dramatic new version of the Pasiphaé myth and chose this story for the project.


"...Swept up all the way to the stars..."
For each scene, Matisse selected a favorite phrase from de Montherlant's Pasiphaé and interpreted it in several different ways. True to his style, the images respond not to the tale's tragedy but to universal themes of passion, feminine beauty and love. For the 1944 publication, only one image per scene was printed and the alternate linoleum blocks were stored for a separate edition Matisse hoped to publish later.


A wish fulfilled
It was left to the Matisse Estate to publish the remaining linoleum blocks in a limited edition of 100. Following Matisse's wishes, they used the ink and paper from the 1944 edition and also authenticated each image with the estate stamp "HM." The 1981 edition features new versions of Matisse's most beautiful and famous images, including the Embrace.


The Technique: Linocut
Matisse favored linoleum engraving because it captured the subtle movements of his hand. He began with a thick block of linoleum and used a knife or gouge to carve the soft surface. Ink was then applied to the uncarved sections before being pressed to paper. In the Pasiphaé linocuts, the black ink creates a timeless setting for the emotions captured by the simple white lines.