The memoir, which largely focuses on the childhood and World War II years of Pierre, is a story of courage and creation. It also deals with the pain of ostracism and finding one’s identity. And it is, in essence, a love story to God … revealing how God was always in Pierre’s life, even before he truly came to a personal relationship with Him.
Written very much like a fiction novel, a great portion of Matisse’s memoir offers the perspective of Pierre as a young child and teen-ager, and his experience of WWII, including underground secret missions. Young Pierre was precocious and full of mischief, a free spirit who sought out adventure. But it’s exactly these characteristics that helped get survive the war, as well as his military service in Northern Africa after WWII.
Throughout the book, and therefore throughout his life, he also constantly fought with the concept of his own identity, especially after being forced to change his last name from Matisse to Leroy as a child.
The remainder of the book deals with his move to Canada and eventually the United States, and how steps in his life eventually brought him to the place where he knew he needed a personal relationship with Jesus.
Matisse begins each chapter with personal illustrations reflecting that chapter’s topic, and the book also contains photos from as early as his childhood to the present.
“The Missing Matisse” is a fabulous memoir. It is a great book for anyone who enjoys autobiographies, World War II and historical books, art history, spy stories, and just a good tale in general. It’s an inspiring story.
Five stars out of five.
Tyndale House Publishers provided this complimentary copy for my honest, unbiased review.
Pierre Henri Matisse was born in Paris in 1928. Brought up as the grandson of Henri Matisse, Pierre spent his childhood among some of the most famous artists of the century, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. During WWII, Pierre and his father, Jean Matisse, were heavily involved in French underground activities, wanted by the Nazis for their efforts in aiding the British spies and saboteurs. When the war ended, Pierre worked in the restoration of the art and historical monuments damaged by the war in France. Now a citizen of the United States, he is an artist who has given or created commissioned pieces to help organizations such as Project Hope, The American Red Cross, numerous children’s hospitals, and many others.
1. What prompted you to write this book at this time in your life?
My parents did not tell me much about their lives. I want my children to know about mine.
2. What is your hope for this book?
I love books, and I have loved to read all my life. Books are where I learned what I know — from other people’s life experiences. In hard times books have been my best friends, my source of inspiration. I want my book to be an inspiration, a story about survival no matter what, showing how I relied on courage, faith, hope and love.
3. Tell us about spending with your grandfather, Henri Matisse. Did you know then that he was a famous artist?
I did not spend much time with him, because he was immersed in his art and living in Nice on the French Riviera, while I was living in Paris. As a child, I had no idea my grandfather was famous until the day he came to visit us in Paris and took me to a jazz concert starring Django Reinhardt. I love music, especially jazz. After the concert Grandfather Matisse told me that Django was one of his friends, and asked me if I wanted to meet him. I answered with an enthusiastic 'yes'! From that day on, I knew that my grandfather Henri had to be very famous if he could access famous people and call them his friend.
4. Can you talk about your memories of WWII and the time you spent with your father, Jean Matisse, in the French Underground?
My father was involved with British intelligence, assisting British spies. On more than one occasion, we set out in a small boat and rendezvoused with a British submarine off Cap d' Antibes on the French Riviera. We brought British spies ashore and hid them in our home. During the winter of 1943, I was an apprentice illustrator at a print shop. On the side, I helped a secret printing business and made false papers, passes, and fake IDs. On D-Day, I was living in Normandy and when the Nazis began to be pushed back to the Allies, I had encounters with them that should have gotten me killed. It is a miracle that we all survived the war.
5. When you were twelve-years-old, your mother said you needed to stop answering to the name Matisse and to go by the name Leroy instead. Then she sent you away to boarding school. Can you discuss the impact that had on you? Did you feel abandoned?
First, I did not blame my mother or anybody else. It was war time, and war was being fought in our backyard. My parents had a delicate problem to navigate and they did the best they could under the circumstances. As for me, I was devastated when it happened. Because I had always been an adventurous boy who was often getting into trouble, I thought that I had been kicked out of the family for bad conduct. First, I cried. Then I pulled myself together and asked God for courage. From that day on, I felt I was a real man, on my own. I knew I would have to figure out life by myself.
6. What has your faith taught you about forgiveness and starting over?
Resentment, holding grudges, hate, are negative feelings, and guilt for past mistakes that you can do nothing about will destroy and poison your soul. I am a positive person who is a problem solver. I believe in finding the good in everything and focusing on it. Many times, I was forced to think of alternative solutions to stay alive in the situation I was in. In those difficult circumstances, it was time to pray for courage.
7. Tell us about your other interests as a pilot, a photographer, music lover, art history buff etc.
Sailing a boat, flying a small plane, photography, music, and literature, actually, all of life is about creating and the word art describes both the process and the end product. History and art history are linked together, they are a blueprint to our precious heritage as they define who we are as descendants of the true Creator. I belong to the same kind of spirited men who painted masterpieces on cave walls thousands of years ago.