With the second volume of John Richardson’s great Picasso biography already out, it was only a matter of time before Matisse (1869–1954) received equal treatment. Hilary Spurling—a London-based theater critic, literary editor, book reviewer, and biographer—has met the challenge admirably with her book, whose fluidity, depth of research, and level of detail are awe-inspiring.[1] While Spurling does not attempt to do the intense pictorial analysis or to make the art historical references that Richardson does—“This book is a biography, not a work of art history,” she writes in the preface—she provides an extraordinarily rich and fascinating context for understanding Matisse’s art and dispels some of the myths and assumptions about him. Her book reveals the “unknown” Matisse, the man not understood by a study of his paintings alone.

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