The Joyce/Matisse Illustrated Edition of Ulysses

Recently I met Nancy Straus at a Cliff Dwellers event and the conversation between us turned to Ulysses by James Joyce. I was astounded when Nancy mentioned to me that she owned a rare copy of the book that was signed both by Joyce and the French artist Henri Matisse and contained illustrations from etchings done by Matisse, including the front cover with its gold-embossed Nausicaa design.
In 1935, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) published a limited illustration edition of Ulysses after Matisse had been paid $5,000 by George Macy, the founder of the Limited Editions Club, to do the Ulysses-themed artwork. It turned out that Matisse had not read Joyce’s Ulysses in the French translation. Nor did he intend to after he had been commissioned to do the illustrations.
Instead, Matisse proposed to create the artwork based on Homer’s Odyssey, which after all inspired Joyce to craft his modernistic take on the ancient Greek legend. And as it turned out, Joyce had no problem going along with Matisse on his proposal. In fact, Joyce enjoyed this illustrated edition so much that he bought several copies and presented one of them as a Christmas gift to his son and daughter-in-law in 1935.
There were only 250 copies of the LEC Ulysses signed by both Joyce and Matisse. The numbering is not in consecutive order. Nancy’s copy is #353. She was kind enough to send me photos of the cover and signature page of her copy.

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