Pasiphaé: Chant de Minos (Les Crétois) is widely recognized as one of Henri Matisse’s most successful artist books. This 20th-century retelling of an ancient myth describes how Pasiphaé, the wife of King Minos of Crete, falls in love with a white bull sent by the sea god Poseidon. From their union, she gives birth to a bull-headed child known as the Minotaur. Intent on matching the spirit and mood of the classical tale, Matisse took as his model ancient Greek black-figure vase painting, where white lines added detail to black forms. His adaptation utilizes white contour lines on black background, not only suggesting Pasiphaé’s dark thoughts, but also the sensuality of this passionate story. Departing from the myth’s customary emphasis upon the gods’ punishment of Minos by cursing Pasiphaé with desire for a bull, Matisse’s illustrations instead evoke a visual love story.
Henri Matisse (French, 1861–1954), Pasiphaé: Chant de Minos (Les Crétois) [Pasiphaé: Minos’s Song (The Cretans)]. Written by Henry de Montherlant (French 1895–1972), 148 linoleum cuts. Published by Martin Fabiani, Paris, 1944. Edition of 250. Gift of Molly and Walter Bareiss, 1984.732. In the exhibition Drawn from Classicism: Modern Artists’ Books. Wolfe Gallery mezzanine.
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