November 2015 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Joyce's Ulysses, Illustrated by Matisse

In search of something epic at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair? Look no further than booth 319, where Oak Knoll Books is offering a gem of 20th-century publishing: a 1935 Limited Editions Club (LEC) example of James Joyce's Ulysses, with etchings by Henri Matisse. This 365-page volume is number 244 in a run of 1500 numbered copies, and is signed by author and illustrator. Bound in brown cloth, the book includes Matisse's Nausicaa stamped in gold on the front cover. The spine, also stamped in gold, features a miniature of the cover design. This is one of the most highly coveted editions published by LEC, the other being a 1934 edition of Aristophanes' Lysistrata illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso.


Ulysses, by James Joyce, illustrated by Henri Matisse. Image from Oak Knoll

LEC founder and publisher George Macy wanted his edition of Joyce's work to be illustrated by one of the best artists of the time. He approached Matisse with his request and $5,000. In the 1930s that sum brought twenty-six full-page illustrations. Matisse was rumored not to have read Joyce's novel (though he was provided a French translation), and the black-and-white compositions are based on themes pulled from the Greek classic. Readers looking for Matisse's bold use of color will not find it here. Instead, grand gestures are rendered in strokes of charcoal and pencil, reflecting the artist's belief that meaning in art could be conveyed through thoughtfully placed lines.

Presented with the Limited Editions Press Monthly Letter and prospectus loosely inserted, Ulysses is being offered for $20,000.