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Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream Paperback – March 25, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Morgan and his wife leave their middle-aged Arkansas lives behind to move to France and follow in the footsteps of the painter Henri Matisse, the author's hero. Part travelogue, part biography and part memoir, the book chronicles the couple's journey as they travel from Paris to such distant destinations as Corsica, Morocco and Nice, all the while eating good food, drinking fine wine and staying in luxury accommodations. Morgan, who depicted his coast-to-coast road trip in 1999's The Distance to the Moon, also sketches and paints interiors, landscapes and people as they go. But his drawings, included in the text, appear amateurish when coupled with his unoriginal musings ("artists are by nature and necessity self-centered, if not outright narcissistic") and his need to compare himself to his subject ("While I painted my offbeat [Christmas] ornaments, I thought of Matisse's struggle in 1892 following his first failure to qualify for the Ecole des Beaux Arts"). The book's strength lies in Morgan's ability to incorporate secondary sources to enliven and enrich the narrative, such as biographies of Matisse by Hilary Spurling and John Elderfield. In the end, though, Morgan's journey to "chase" Matisse is too personal; readers who admire the artist and hope to understand him with greater depth and sensitivity won't be satisfied by this effort. 28 illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

First-person travel books often come in the form of vision quests, and Morgan's is no exception. At 59, he parlayed a writing career into a liberating spree around France. His mission: to "read, write, paint, think and travel." (All that and his wife, also a writer, went along, too.) An amateur painter, he aimed his brushes toward an obsession with the "affirming spirit" of Henri Matisse and, voila, a book is born. Chasing Matisse joins the genre of boomers in search of the luxe life; think A Year in Provence (1990). Readers who revel in such tales, and who have a passion for art, will likely identify with Morgan's effort to follow in Matisse's footsteps, and to find his light, colors, and inspiration in Morocco, Corsica, and Venice. Morgan's record of learning to draw and paint in Matisse's shadow is imbued with good humor and intelligence, though also an abundance of closely observed rituals of travel, as if shopping for office supplies in Paris is somehow more of a transforming experience than it is in Little Rock. Steve Paul
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (March 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439167249
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439167243
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By L. Young VINE VOICE on October 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The author, a writer and artist, is fascinated by the work of Matisse. He and his wife, also a writer, sell their house, leave their desk jobs and go off to France to follow in the footsteps of Matisse. The author chronicles their travels to the places that inspired Matisse - Paris, Collioure in the Pyrenees, Corsica, Belle-Ile off the coast of Britany and the South of France.

In these places the author learns not just to look but also to see. The facts of Matisse's life and his development as an artist are interwoven with the travel adventures of the author and his wife as they live their dream of starting over in a foreign country. A look into the soul of an artist and what we can learn from him if we seek to live the creative life, this book is vastly superior to the shallowness of "C'est La Vie" by Susie Gershman and her vacuous tale of leaving the US to live in Paris.

The only thing missing from "Chasing Matisse" is a map so that the reader can see the locations of the various places that are visited. It's also helpful to have on hand a copy of "Henri Matisse: A Retrospective", Museum of Modern Art 1992, while you read so that you can see the paintings that the author mentions extensively in the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raymond Ruiz on June 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the story of a couple's journey from a safe, secure home in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the nomadic life of gypsies in France. Jim and Beth decide that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (my quote from Socrates). They sell their home (eventually, after months in France, with money getting short), and follow in the footsteps of Henri Matisse- Jim's new role model, who urges us to see as if we were children--to really see things as they are. For me, it's a story of Jim's moving from the male infatuation with bravado a la Ernest Hemmingway (literary icon and Jim's former role model) to the "gentler, kinder" exploration of the true artistic genius of Matisse-- from killing wild game in Africa to prove your masculinity to contemplating, and then seeking to re-create beauty--the kind often associated with women (or, the softer side of men). Matisse sought serenity through luxe, calme, et volupte' .
Pushing 60 when we meet him in the book, Jim was a former editor of Playboy magazine, and of Southern magazine. He had dabbled in drawing as a teen, and was pretty good at it. Through some more schooling, and a lot of practice, Jim rekindles his interest in art, and sets out to follow in the footsteps of Matisse's life journey. (Beth's travelogues online offer further warmth, humor and insight into their journey.) The resulting drawings and paintings of Jim [...] are the perfect complement to his story. Jim refers to himself as an amateur painter. This is too humble an assessment. Jim's drawings are superb. They echo so perfectly his words in the book--and in fact, truly exemplify luxe, calme, et volupte'. I hope his next project will be a coffee table volume of his drawings and paintings. The colors are magnificent, and his lines flow like the curves of delicate wrought ironwork. Bravo for a job well done.
Ray Ruiz
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Atchley on May 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you've read Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes, you might be expecting a humorous look at life in another country. This book is not like that. Morgan is a thoughtful, introspective artist who risks all to follow his passion, and he brings us along with him as he travels around France to get inside the head and heart of Henri Matisse. This is a wonderful, informative study of Matisse and his struggles for artistic identity as he singlehandedly explodes color onto the drab palette of French art. It is also a personal journey for Morgan, and you will be touched by his sensitivity and candor. A must-read for anyone who contemplates midlife.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Teresa B. Murphy on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Oh the places you will go as you read James Morgan's fine book, Chasing Matisse. Morgan and his wife, Beth, leave their comfortable lives in Little Rock, Arkansas and set out for France to visit the places Henri Matisse once inhabited. The physical journey that Morgan takes the reader on makes the book worthwhile; however, it is the psychological journey Morgan takes as an artist that makes this book particularly compelling. Morgan, an accomplished writer, chooses to pursue a lifelong dream, painting. And, who better to lead him on this quest than his hero, Matisse? As he visits the places that stirred Matisse's imagination, Morgan learns "to see" as an artist, and he shares those sights as well as his insights with the reader. It takes a lot of courage to uproot oneself in order to pursue a dream, but Morgan does so and describes the process with such honesty and grace that the reader cannot help but be inspired. If you have ever thought about changing your life, you have to read Chasing Matisse. It's a book that stays with you long after the final page is turned.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sandra S. Barnett on June 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Short of being there yourself, what is more fun than to travel relaxed in your favorite chair with a nice,new book that transports you to France, to Paris, to Belle-Ile off the Brittany coast, Corsica, the French Riviera, and you get to go without having to struggle with armloads of luggage?

In Chasing Matisse, Jim Morgan and his wife, Beth Arnold, leave a fine life in Little Rock, Arkansas to follow the elusive stuff we call our dreams. With some misgivings, they pack-up; stash away what they cannot take and say goodbye to family, friends and pets. And we, the lucky readers, are invited to go with them. Along the way, we discover that Chasing Matisse is more than just a well-written travelogue, it is a book about longings and discovery, about shared joy and love as much as it is about France or Matisse.

Two of James Morgan's finest qualities that shine through in this book are his passion for art and painting, and his honesty. He chases Matisse as a student follows after a master. He crosses France seeking color, line and freedom. As we travel with him, we learn that Jim Morgan has gifts of his own to offer, his words, his own lines, well chosen and colorful, plus he has a welcoming penchant for seeing and tasting the world.

The book feeds the delicious little "what-ifs" in our own lives, the little itches that ask if someday we too might. . . .

If you have enjoyed Frances Mayes in Italy and Peter Mayle in France, you will love James Morgan in Chasing Matisse.
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