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The Unknown Matisse, 1869-1908 (Matisse #1)

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  180 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Henri Matisse is one of the masters of twentieth-century art and a household word to millions of people who find joy and meaning in his light-filled, colorful images--yet, despite all the books devoted to his work, the man himself has remained a mystery. Now, in the hands of the superb biographer Hilary Spurling, the unknown Matisse becomes visible at last.

Matisse was born...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published October 18th 2005 by Knopf (first published October 27th 1998)
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Rob Woodard
Solid biography of the early life of this amazing painter. It gets the basic whos, whys, and wheres of his life down nicely, but is a little thin when it comes to delving into his art itself, both in regards to social meaning and technique, which is a major flaw. Still, it's worth reading for anyone interested in Matisse and probably would make a good starting point for someone with little to no knowledge of them man or his work. If it was possible I would have given this book 3 1/2 stars.
Sam Schulman
Again, one of the rare biogrphies that makes you care for someone you never thought to care for - on a human level - before. It makes Matisse lovable, and you regret not having had him as a friend. What good this is I'm not sure - but it's uncommon enough to remark upon.
I loved this. Writing a biography of an artist must be a formidable task: how do you satisfy artists as well as readers who are novices? I'm a novice, and it seemed to me that the actual art was well-explained. The discussion of Matisse's artistic influences and the impact of his art is never allowed to overtake the discussion of the man.

Nick Hornby mentioned this in one of his collections of essays, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt; The Unknown Matisse was one of the books he'd heard great things abo...more
Harry Rutherford
The Unknown Matisse is the first of two volumes, taking our hero from 1869-1908. I actually bought it some time ago on Jee Leong’s recommendation, but it has taken me some time to finish, mainly I think because the simple physical size of it makes it slightly awkward to read in bed. It’s not that huge, but it’s quite a fat volume and printed on large format paper to make space for some colour reproductions of the work. Which are, of course, lovely and very welcome.

It’s fascinating to read about...more
Chris Walker
The parents of creative offspring should read this book to reconcile themselves to the years of support they have in front of them if Henri Matisse's early career is anything to go by - and the overwhelming importance of a supportive family (especially wife) and friends in the artist's life. This well researched book, which is festooned with reference numbers on every page but fortunately for the reader not with footnotes, is quite engrossing. A surprise for me was the major influence of the Aus...more
Hilary Spurling's The Unknown Matisse is a detailed, biographical sketch of Henri Matisse's early life and an account of the events leading up to his embrace of Modernism and success as a painter. Spurling describes Henri's life primarily through daily contacts with family, friends and other members of the art circuit. The author begins by sketching the birth of Matisse and the major events surrounding it. The birth of Matisse coincided with the Franco-Prussian War, a time when the Germans march...more
Along with Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf, this and Spurling's second volume, 'Matisse the Master,' are masterpieces of the life writer's art. From the artist's early days in the poor and dim north of France to his last days in the light-filled south, there's enough detail here to sink a lesser biographical vessel. There's so much that we didn't know before---Spurling's scholarship is exhaustive--- but it's all so well told. This is not the Matisse that introductory art history cours...more
A bit of a chore for the first several hundred pages. Not sure why. It is certainly a solid piece of biography. At any rate, the last two hundred pages were more of a pleasure to read, and I learned a great deal from all of it. I hadn't known anything about Matisse's childhood in northern France near Flanders in a countryside that was not bucolic, but harsh and increasingly industrialized. The two major industries there were sugar beet farming and the dying and weaving of cloth (which influenced...more
May 02, 2010 Lisa added it
This is a brilliant analysis of Henri Matisse's stubborn Northern character, his rebellion against his father, his rebellion against conformism, and his struggle to transform modern art into a glittering world of light and colour.

This biography is well-written and interesting. However, it's very long and detailed.
A wonderful writer. As someone who loves this painter, but usually doesn't read books about artists, this is a good place to start, I find. And I'll refer you to someone who's becoming one of my favorite book bloggers,
This was a year to catch up. The title sat on my shelf for almost nine years; it came out at the time I gave up (for a time, it turns out) one of my greatest interests.

Erudite, sensitive, breaking a lot of new ground -- well. That's pretty good, I think. The dedication, alone, deserves a look.
After reading this excellent biography I visited the Matisse Museum at Le Cateau-Cambresis which is superb.
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Hilary Spurling, CBE, FRSL (born 1940) is a British writer, known as a journalist and biographer. She won the Whitbread Prize for the second volume of her biography of Henri Matisse in January 2006. Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China was published in March 2010.
She is married to playwright John Spurling, and has three children (Amy, Nathaniel and Gilbert) and two grandchildren.
More about Hilary Spurling...
Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954 La Grande Therese: The Greatest Scandal of the Century The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell Invitation To the Dance: A Handbook to Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time

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