Matisse and Joyce

“Cyclops” by Henri Matisse, 1935. Soft-ground etching.

James Joyce (1882-1941), Ulysses (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1935). 6 etchings and 20 photomechanical reproductions by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) Copy no. 700 of 1500, signed by Henri Matisse and James Joyce. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize PR6019.O9 U4 1935q

Ever since George Macy, founder and editor of the Limited Editions Club, published an English language edition of Ulysses in 1935, pairing James Joyce’s text with prints by Henri Matisse, there has been a controversy as to whether Matisse ignored Joyce by submitting images based on Homer’s Odyssey. There is no question that the six original soft-ground etchings— “Calypso,” “Aeolus,” “Cyclops,” “Nausicaa,” “Circe,” and “Ithaca”—have a relationship to Homer. The question is whether this was a conscious choice, sanctioned by Joyce, to relate the story and structure of the one book to the other.

In James A. Knapp’s article “Joyce and Matisse Bound” the question is answered yes, with documentation offered from letters between Macy and the artists, and comments from their colleagues, such as Alfred Barr who wrote “Matisse remarked that he had observed how Joyce’s Ulysses was divided into episodes based on Homer’s Odyssey … Macy accepted the suggestion and Matisse went to work.” (Matisse: His Art and His Public, 1951).

Either way, the work of two masters comes together in a powerful way. Macy designed the sequence, including reproductions of the drawings Matisse also sent, which led up to the final etchings. These are bound on top of the final prints in an overlapping fashion that echoes the overlapping stories of the text. Princeton’s copy is one of the 250 (out of the total edition of 1500) signed by Joyce, which originally sold for $15.