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Festival 2003
Book Festival

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2005 13 - 29 August
Hilary Spurling.
Venue Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Address Charlotte Square.
Reviewer Vivien Devlin.

The artist Diana Hope was the ideal presenter to introduce this session with writer, Hilary Spurling about her two part biography on the French artist, Henri Matisse, entitled "The Invisible Man". Spurling has previously written about the lives of literary figures including Paul Scott and Sonia Orwell. She was hesitant in tackling the life of Matisse as curiously there had never been a biography written before. She was warned that "his life was too dull" but her incredible painstaking research proved otherwise. Rather than be interviewed, Spurling gave a talk about her investigation into the life and work of Matisse.

We learned about family secrets and the long hidden scandal involving his father in law, who was involved in the Humbert Affair which rocked France in 1902, causing a trail of bankruptcies, suicides, and bank failures, even threatening to bring down the government. Future generations never revealed the story but it is important to understand how this seriously affected him. He was virtually dismissed by French artistic circles and critics, it caused penury in the family and consequently had a direct impact on his painting. Spurling also described the influence of the various women in his life - his wife, models and muse. She summed him up in three words, "generous, passionate and driven".

It was a fascinating talk but unfortunately it lasted about 55 minutes with no time for Diana Hope to talk to her and only time for one question from the audience. This in fact was rather illuminating - the speaker was French and had studied art in Paris in the 1950s and therefore had strong comments on the perennial popularity of Matisse in France. One quibble. As a scholar, writer and biographer, it was extremely surprising and irritating that Spurling kept referring to "England" and "the English," especially in connection with World War I and II, when Britain and British is correct. Speaking to an international audience in Edinburgh, this was an unforgivable error.
(c)Vivien Devlin 22 August 2005 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com


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