The Missing Matisse: A Memoir by Pierre H. Matisse
Published By Tyndale Momentum/Tyndale House Publishing November 01, 2016
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Nazi planes were bombing Paris the day a lifelong, more personal war began for Pierre. It was the day he lost his identity.
Born into a famous family, Pierre Matisse grew up immersed in the art world of Paris and the French Riviera, spending time with some of the most famous artists of the twentieth century. The man he knew as his grandfather, legendary artist Henri Matisse, encouraged Pierre from a young age, creating a strong desire in him to become a great artist in his own right.
Being a Matisse was an important part of young Pierre’s identity. So he was crushed and bewildered when, at the outbreak of WWII, that identity was suddenly snatched from him with no explanation.
So began Pierre’s lifelong search to solve the mystery of who he really was, a quest that forms the intriguing backdrop to this memoir of a fascinating and adventurous life on three continents. Spanning the insider art world of 1930s Paris, the battles of WWII, the occupation of France by the Nazis, Pierre’s involvement with the French resistance, his post-war work restoring art and historical monuments, and his eventual decision to create a new life in North America, The Missing Matisse is a story of intrigue, faith, and drama as Pierre journeys to discover the truth―before it’s too late.
The real life story of Pierre H. Matisse’s journey to find his true identity is one that leaves the reader pondering their own identity what it means to belong to your name.
This book became a love/hate story for me as I read it. The description of the book was very intriguing and I really looked forward to reading this real life story of a France native/ American citizen. However my enthusiasm waned quite a bit as began reading this book. I felt like Mr. Matisse dropped me right in the middle of his childhood and bombarded me with the many names of his family and the places they lived with little reference before they were mentioned. I think this was done to show how a child who has many relatives might feel if they had to got visiting all the time. I found this to be a bit off-putting for me personally because it showed in glaring detail Mr. Matisse’s lack of writing ability. Understanding that Mr. Matisse is an artist and first time author mollified me somewhat but I felt his editors could have done better helping him piece the story together. It took me until the 200th page to really feel like the story got going enough to where I was curious to see what would happen next. Until then I found the chapters to be awkwardly put together and too much emphasis placed on the ordinary and uneventful moments of Mr. Matisse’s childhood. This is not to minimize or trivialize the many experiences that Mr. Matisse had that made him the brave and adventurous person he was and is today. I really enjoyed reading of his efforts to help free his country from the grip of Francisco Franco’s troops and later the Nazis. His devil-may-care attitude most certainly made him take more risks than others might but it also kept him alive through many dangerous situations. It tickled me to read of his outspokenness to those he didn’t like and I laughed at his childish rants filled with foreign profanity he thought made him tougher – though Mr. Matisse was smart enough to leave out the actual texts of these rants, earning my applause. It was quite heartbreaking to read of his family trying to give him an alternate last name to protect him from the Nazis. The circumstances of his birth were not spoken of openly and later in life, Mr. Matisse would learn why. His mother Louise had been previously married to Camille Leroy and it was during their separation and before their divorce that Louise fell in love with Jean Matisse. Their affair led to Mr. Matisse’s birth shortly after their marriage in 1928. In their efforts to protect him from harm, they gave him the name Pierre Leroy when he went to boarding school. This caused Mr. Matisse no end of confusion and doubt as to his real name and family. He would learn the truth many years later from his “grandmother” Leroy and eventually change official records as well in his later years to reflect this truth. To read of his later life as he moved to Canada and later America was really interesting as he and his family endured much to earn their way. I loved how he was able to return to his love of art as an older man recalling the encouragement of his grandfather, Henri Matisse, and having “visions” of him telling him to remember how to create the best art through simplicity. And to see how God used his art to bring him to faith in Jesus Christ was really wonderful. How lovely to read of how a project Mr. Matisse thought he was doing to make his wife happy brought him to the greatest Source of happiness there is. And to further read of his desire to tell the story of Jesus’s Crucifixion showed work most certainly inspired by God. It was really wonderful to also read of Mr. Matisse’s third and final marriage to Jeanne, whom his calls his life partner, at the age of 67! Life and marriage had not been very kind to him and I was glad to see he was able to find joy at last with Jeanne, and eventual reunion with his children from his first marriage. And to hear of their connection to the Robertson’s of Duck Dynasty fame was an unexpectedly interesting ending to this memoir. What a wonderful passage it was to read of Mr. Matisse’s baptism by Willie Robertson when he went to visit this sweet family his wife had come to love through their show. So, although this wasn’t the most polished of memoirs it did entertain me fairly well. I would have preferred that the editors trim the excesses a little more and make the chapters more connected but perhaps they wished to keep those elements to make the book more authentic. I will share this book with others I know who enjoy reading memoirs but will offer a word of caution as to the awkward formatting and connectivity.
I received this book free of charge from Tyndale Momentum/Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review. I will receive no fiscal compensation from either company for this review.