By IRIS CONLAY
MATISSE FROM THE LIFE, by Raymond Escholier (Faber, 63s.). MATISSE has written so large a part of this book that it is almost his and not the commentator's. M. Escholier has a fabulous collection of Matisse's letters to himself and has collected many others to his friends, using them so lavishly as to almost obliterate himself.
Indeed, his text becomes a kind of tramline on which, in not too clear a direction, the thoughts of Matisse run smoothly. The result of such a book is that we ungratefully wish that the whole text could have been Matisse's-for we have discovered in him a most illuminating writer on his own art and on that of his time.
Here we can read the story of how Matisse came to design the chapel of Notre Dame du Rosaire in Venice. how it absorbed his whole life during his. last years, how much this spiritual task reflected the truly spiritual, if unconventionally religious. mind of that great man-for Matisse emerges a great character as well as a great artist, a hero to his surgeon and beloved by the nuns who nursed him through his sad years of disablement.
THESE are some of the things
Matisse said about his chapel: "I want those who come into my chapel to feel purified and relieved of their burdens." This was after people had misunderstood the draped figures of St. Dominic and the Virgin and Child who were portrayed featureless.
He was consoled by an anonymous old woman who is reported to have said: "It is much better for the Holy Virgin to have no face, everyone can see her as she likes."
"This chapel," said Matisse. "is to me the outcome of a whole life's work and the flower of a great effort, sincere and difficult. It is not a work chosen by me. but truly a work for which I have been chosen by destiny at the end of my road which I continue according to my findings." And when the chapel was finished the artist offered it to the Archbishop of Nice in these words: "In all humility I present you with the Chapelle du Rosaire des Soeurs Dominicaines de Vence. I devoted four arduous years exclusively to this work and it is the result of my whole active life. I consider it my masterpiece. I hope the future will confirm my judgement by a growing interest, apart from the higher meaning of the building. I leave to your long experience of men and your deep wisdom to judge this attempt, the result of a life devoted entirely to the search for truth."
DID he ever describe his attitude to religion? Not in so many words, but once, to Aragon, he said: "Perhaps after all I believe without knowing it in another life
. in some paradise where I shall paint frescoes."
And at another time: "Do I believe in God? Yes. when i am working. When I am submissive. humble. I feel as though l were being helped by someone who makes me do things beyond my power."