Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse
Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse
Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse

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Publisher: Firefly Books

Author Statement: Essays by Francois Gagnon, Michele Grandbois and John O'Brian
Audience: Trade
Specs: 150 full-color reproductions, archival photographs, list of exhibited works, list of figures, bibliography, index of names and titles
Pages: 256
Trim Size: 9" X 11 3/4" X 1"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20140718
Copyright Year: 2014
Price: Select Below

Morrice and Lyman In the Company of Matisse

James Wilson Morrice (1869-1954) was an important Canadian Impressionist painter working in Canada, France and North Africa. American-born John Lyman (1886-1967) was a Canadian Modernist artist who spent most of his lengthy career in Montreal. Early in their artistic lives, the two met in Paris where they attended the Academie Julian.

Both artists crossed paths with master French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) in different ways and at different times over their careers, and he became a formidable influence. Their encounters in France and North Africa, occurring over the early decades of the 20th century, were decisive for their respective art, and the development of Canadian modernist art. A century later, Morrice, Lyman and Matisse's work is still influential.

In the fall of 2014, Morrice, Lyman and Matisse are the subjects of a large exhibition, Morrice and Lyman: In the Company of Matisse to be held at the Musee National des Beaux-arts du Quebec, and at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, two of Canada's most important art institutions and visitor destinations.

Morrice and Lyman: In the Company of Matisse is a beautiful companion to the exhibition that is expected to be attract thousands of visitors. Illustrated essays by noted art historians, interspersed with wide-ranging portfolios of work by the artists, compare and contrast the artists' individual and common artistic outlooks and output. The book's 150 full-color reproductions by all three painters and archival photographs show Morrice's and Lyman's personal quest for the light, color, balance and serenity permeating the art of revolutionary painters such as Matisse. The light shines through every painting.


Francois-Marc Gagnon, PhD is an internationally recognized senior scholar in Canadian visual culture. He is a professor emeritus in the department of art history and film studies at the University of Montreal, an affiliate professor of art at Concordia University and the Founding Director and Distinguished Research Fellow of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art. In 1999, he received the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honor.

Michele Grandbois, PhD, is an art historian and has been the curator of modern art at the Musee National des Beaux-arts du Quebec since 1986. She is the author of several books on the history of modern and contemporary art.

John O'Brian has a PhD in art history from Harvard University. Since 1987, he has been a professor and faculty associate of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia. He has published more than a dozen books and 70 articles on modern art history and on theory and criticism. He is the editor of the four-volume Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, which were New York Times "best" books of the year in 1986 and 1993, and have received hundreds of scholarly citations.



The protagonists of our story are two iconic figures of Canadian modern art, James Wilson Morrice and John Lyman, and the great French painter Henri Matisse. The three men encountered one another during the early twentieth century in Paris, then a cauldron of avant-garde activity in which Matisse was playing a vital role. Although they did not spend all that much time together -- a total, as far as we know, of around four and a half months -- these meetings resulted in a creative surge that had a powerful impact on the conventional Canadian art milieu of the time. When John Lyman exhibited his paintings in Montreal in 1913, they caused a scandal. Their bold new look reflected an aesthetic language shaped by lessons learned in Paris, notably at the Académie Matisse in 1910. This critical event was the catalyst for an irreversible move forward that would be manifested over the next three decades in the formation of a variety of artists' associations dedicated to a modern, universal creative approach, free of any nationalist or regionalist ambition. These collectives included the Beaver Hall Group, the Atelier, the Contemporary Arts Society of Montreal, the artists linked to Alfred Pellan and the Prisme d'Yeux manifesto, and of course Paul-Èmile Borduas and the Automatistes, source of the highly critical Refus global, which became a crucial factor in the Quiet Revolution that would transform Quebec during the 1960s.

It was admittedly a bold move to bring together three men whose paths were so different, particularly since they left relatively little contemporary written evidence of their meetings. In the case of James Wilson Morrice, the only direct proof we have that he knew Matisse takes the form of two notes in a sketchbook dating from 1920-1922 that mention his name. But then Morrice left just as few clues to his encounters with his compatriot Lyman. Henri Matisse, on the other hand, was more communicative about Morrice. In letters to his wife, Amélie, he mentions on several occasions having spent time with him in Tangier in April 1912. A few months after the Canadian's death, Matisse recalled their two trips to Morocco during the winters of 1912 and 1913: "You know the artist with the delicate eye who delighted in interpreting landscapes of closely related values in soft and muted hues. As a man, he was a true gentleman, a good companion, with great wit and humour." These lines by the French artist, published in the catalogue of the posthumous Morrice exhibition organized by the Galeries Simonson in Paris, in January 1926, have been invoked regularly by specialists, biographers, critics, art historians and museologists interested in the Montreal painter. Matisse's affection for him was confirmed on other occasions and documented by Morrice's biographer, Donald W. Buchanan, who interviewed Matisse twice to discuss their relationship. And in a letter to the curator of the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), Pierre Matisse, the artist's son, affirmed that the Canadian was "a very good friend" of his father.

Of the three artists, it is John Lyman whose writings are the most illuminating. Although the painter made little mention of the Académie Matisse in the letters written to his father while he was there, he defended his former teacher vigorously in 1913 when Montreal Journalists criticized his work, claiming it had been corrupted by Matisse's teaching and influence. In the diary Lyman kept from 1927 to 1963 and in the articles he published in The Montrealer between 1936 and 1942, he acknowledged his debt to Cézanne and Matisse and declared his admiration for Morrice, whose work he helped promote with his 1945 monograph on the painter -- the first ever in French. But the two richest sources of aesthetic, factual and anecdotal information concerning Lyman's relations with Matisse and Morrice are probably the documentary John Lyman, peintre produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1959, and the handwritten notes by Guy Viau in which he recorded his memories of the painter. All this documentation attracted the attention of art historians, and several monographic studies of the two Canadians would appear, accompanied in 1985 and 1986 by retrospective exhibitions.

But aside from the material research into the connections between the three painters it was above all their art that showed us the direction our project should take. Were Morrice and Lyman working as the disciples of a master, or were we dealing with an aesthetic kinship between three distinct personalities? The answer lies in the absolute freedom manifested in the production of the two Montreal painters. If there was a single principle that Henri Matisse held dear, it was the idea of creative authenticity, the need for artists to define their own path, regardless of institutional or commercial considerations. The interweaving of art and life was the basis of the liberty expressed by these three artists and of their capacity to appreciate the present moment.

So as we follow the careers of Morrice, Lyman and Matisse, it is a narrative of artistic fraternity that emerges -- one composed of life stories and travelogues, and of aesthetic explorations spanning over eighty years, conducted in Canada and abroad. Morrice and Lyman's encounters with Matisse, though referred to in articles and specialized studies, had not hitherto been taken beyond the level of human interest and anecdote, and the data remained scattered and fragmented. Now, at last, the three artists have been brought together in an exhibition and a catalogue that offer a far more complete picture of a fundamental episode in the history of Canadian art.

We have concentrated on the paintings, reluctantly leaving aside the many works on paper-drawings and water colours -- that would have further supported our argument. More specifically, we have focused on the three painters' shared view of "colour-light" as the expression of an aesthetic approach aimed at essential form, form that -- as Lyman (echoing Matisse) wrote -- is "below the surface, beyond appearances . . . permanent and durable."

This catalogue testifies to the interest our project has generated among seasoned art historians. Three of the six essays it includes offer an in-depth exploration of relations between two of the artists. In "Morrice and Lyman: The Light of Exile," for example, I have traced the careers of the two Canadian painters abroad. The emancipation and freedom they embodied proved richly instructive. The essay also examines the vitality of Paris and its Salons (in which the artists participated), their aesthetic discoveries and the critical reception afforded their work, in France and in Canada. Their practice of art, so closely connected to their moves and travels, takes us to the countries of North Africa and to the islands of the Caribbean.

In an essay entitled "Morrice and Matisse: Bedfellows Under the Sign of Modernism," John O'Brian examines the personal relationship between the two artists, as well public reaction to their respective oeuvres. Author of Ruthless Hedonism (1999) a remarkable book on the American reception of Matisse's work, the art historian begins by reviewing the two painters' historiography. He then goes on to discuss their encounters in Tangier and elucidate their painting procedures, ending with a fascinating account of the acquisition of works by Matisse in Canada.

With his contribution, "Lyman's Encounter with Matisse," François-Marc Gagnon offers an illuminating view of the relationship between John Lyman and the Fauve aesthetic. He examines the time the Montreal painter spent at the Académie Matisse and his visits to the Steins, as well as his meetings with Matisse in Nice. Having considered the impact of the French artist on Lyman's work as a critic, the author clarifies the distinction between the notions of the "picturesque" and the "pictorial," and explains by means of examples how they and the concept of the "decorative" relate to the two artists' work.

The essay by Lucie Dorais looks at Morrice's trips to North Africa, which occurred over a period of more than a decade. She takes us first to the Tangier of 1912 and 1913, where the Canadian painter spent several weeks in Matisse's company. Through the intermediary of Morrice's works, we stroll along the beach, linger in the places that caught his eye and follow him into the medina, whose gates inspired a number of luminous pochades. Our next stop is Tunis, where Morrice spent the winter of 1914. And finally, after the war, Algeria, which the painter visited in 1922 and 1923, less than a year before his death in the region that had so inspired him.

In order to gain a better sense of the Canadian art milieu from which our painters emerged, we felt it important to examine the diffusion of French art in this country. We therefore asked Marc Gauthier to share his previously unpublished research on an exhibition held in Montreal in 1906, Some French Impressionists, which inspired the young Lyman to embark on a career as a painter.

Complementing these various studies is a chronology entitled "Morrice, Lyman, Matisse: Intertwining Journeys," which details the three artists' intersecting paths. The product of research undertaken by Richard Foisy and myself, it includes numerous quotes, creating "conversations" that add a lively dimension to the most significant aspects of their encounters and their artistic affinities.

Finally, four richly illustrated portfolios mirroring the circuit of the exhibition itself focus on decorative painting, the particular quality of Mediterranean and Caribbean light, and the allure of water. Taken together, these texts illuminate a facet of our history that has remained in obscurity for over a century.

Michèle Grandbois
Curator of the Exhibition


Table of Contents

      Line Ouellet and Victoria Dickenson
    A Word from Our Patron


      Michèle Grandbois


      Lucie Dorais




      John O'Brian




    François-Marc Gagnon




    Marc Gauthier




      Richard Foisy and Michèle Grandbois

    List of Exhibited Works
    List of Figures
    Selected Bibliography
    Index of Names and Titles
    The Authors

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