The Letters of a Portuguese Nun is now known to be a work of fiction, but Henri Matisse and many of his contemporaries believed it to be a genuine account of unrequited love. Along with portraits of the lovelorn correspondent, Matisse designed lithograph ornaments for the chapter openings, each with a large calligraphic initial beneath a fruit or floral decorative motif. He spent sleepless nights on the task of drawing initials that would harmonize with the broad crayon strokes he used for the ornaments. “I know what a J is like now,” he confided to a friend, “and an A, the A is difficult … well, you shall see.”
Gabriel Joseph de Lavergne, vicomte de Guilleragues (1628–1685). Lettres [de] Marianna Alcaforado, lithographies originales de Henri Matisse. Paris: Tériade Éditeur, 1946. Frances and Michael Baylson Collection; PML 195603.