Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Correspondence between Camoin and Matisse

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – Mai 2009. 

I just read the correspondence between Charles Camoin and Henri Matisse (Presented and annotated by Claudine Grammont and Published in French by “La Bibliothèque des Arts”).

Born in Marseille on 23rd September 1879, Camoin died in Paris on 20th May 1965. He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Marseille and then in Paris and became part of Fauvism with Puy, Manguin, Rouault, Matisse and Marquet. The later was a close friend of both Matisse and Camoin and is frequently mentioned in their letters. The three of them went to Morocco in 1912–13.

The correspondence covers the first and second World Wars and both artists tried to help each other, morally but also in concrete ways. For instance, Matisse sent on several occasions some parcels with necessities to Camoin. During World War I, Camoin was mobilized and served as stretcher-bearer and then as a painter for the camouflage unit.

The two friends shared their work, their thoughts and their doubts. Talking about Seurat and himself, Matisse wrote in 1915: “I know that Seurat is everything but a romantic, that I am a romantic, but with a good half of science, of rationalism, that make the struggle from which I something emerge the victor, but out of breath.”

Matisse tried to join the army but his application was rejected. On several occasions, he tells in his letter how he worked hard and it was his way to go through this troubled period. Camoin was kept away from Paris and the art world during the war and this may explain why he is not very well known today. In a way, Camoin was painting by proxy through Matisse. He wrote to his friend: “You are right to work as this generation is pretty much lost and at least someone like you needs to represent it.”

During World War II Camoin lived mainly in St Tropez and Matisse and Camoin kept writing to each other from time to time. When his wife and daughter get arrested, Matisse wrote to Camoin who supported him and tried to help.

The most revealing letter was for me the one dated 12 August 1941, where Matisse asked Camoin a detail about an old anecdote. This question tells a lot about the relationship and sometime rivalry between Picasso and Matisse:

“Jean Puy told me that during World War I, there were two different sections of the camouflage unit, one headed by Segonzac and the other…. By whom? Anyway, each had a rabbit as mascot which names were Picasso for one and Matisse for the other. In comparative discussions about the two animals, no mention was made of rabbits, but it was said: “Our Picasso is more beautiful than your Matisse!” Who led the second section?”

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grazing4life said...

Dear French Easel,

I am seeking the English translation for Correspondence between Camoin and Matisse.

Can you please advise?


Michael Camoin
Albany, NY USA

Benoit Philippe said...


I did some research and I am afraid that the letters between Matisse and Camoin have not been translated into English.