Henri Matisse (1869–1954)

Henri Matisse was an influential artist of the twentieth century, best known for being an exponent of the Fauvist style.

Henri Matisse - Dance [1910]
Henri Matisse – Dance [1910]

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/d051e2f6-7936-4a5c-b2d3-7b1533437325 by Gandalf’s Gallery

Henri Matisse was one the most famous painter of the 20th century, but he also worked on sculptures and printmakers. His colorful and bright works brought him notoriety as one of the Fauves, and until the end of his career, he pursued the expressiveness of color by representing flattened forms and domestic environments.


Life and education

Portrait of Henri Matisse by Carl Van Vechten, 1933

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/933a4b43-d31e-4cb0-8696-d05a8fd56365

Born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in France, he was raised by a wealthy family of grain merchants; in 1887 he moved to Paris to study law, and then, after a period of convalescence during which his mother brought him art supplies, he discovered “a kind of paradise” and became an artist. In 1891, he returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and became a student of William-Adolphe and Gustave Moreau. Initially, he painted still lifes and landscapes in a traditional style, but in 1891 he discovered Impressionism thanks to the Australian painter John Russell, who introduced him to Vincent van Gogh‘s art. From that moment on Matisse’s style changed completely, abandoning his the earth-colored palette for bright colors. After studying Turner‘s works, in 1999 he went back to Paris and met Albert Marquet, André DerainJean Puy, and Jules Flandrin, starting with them the Fauvist movement.

Henri Matisse - The Red Room [1908]
Henri Matisse – The Red Room [1908]

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/85dd747b-ecf6-4ab1-adf9-cf73928a3d29 by Gandalf’s Gallery


The period with the Fauves and after

In 1905 the Fauves exhibited themselves for the first time in the Salon d’Automne, and so Matisse’s first Fauvist work was born: Woman with the hat. The critics were harsh on them, especially on Matisse’s work which was described as “a pot full of colors cast on the public”. Even though the movement of the Fauves ended early, this didn’t affect Matisse’s career; many of his most famous works were created between 1906 and 1917, when he was an active part of the great gathering of artistic talent in Montparnasse, even though he did not quite fit in. Matisse traveled from Africa to Russia studying different styles, this changed his works as well, as we can see in the new way of using colors: black and a new boldness in the use of intense, unmodulated colors were introduced.

Henri Matisse - Painter’s Family [1911]
Henri Matisse – Painter’s Family [1911]

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/64822755-72c8-4509-81e8-f006020a4f73 by Gandalf’s Gallery


What inspired him and the Fauves?

Matisse thought that the artist can’t control colors or forms, he must be guided by his primordial instincts to create a work of art. That’s why in his works figures are distorted, he has to create a sense of harmony in his paintings, and harmony can be accomplished with both space and color: complementary colors create great contrast, and contrast is used to show deep lights and shadows, making images of big impact.

Henri Matisse - Ballerina [c.1927]
Henri Matisse – Ballerina [c.1927]

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/d880138e-6c3d-432e-8bac-c053e035f9d5 by Gandalf’s Gallery

Last years

In 1941 he was diagnosed with abdominal cancer that limited his movements, but despite his illness, he kept working by designing cuts-out. At last, he organized the decoration of Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence which allowed him to expand this technique within a truly decorative context.

Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 on 3 November 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, near Nice.

Chapelle Matisse
Matisse’s chapel in Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, France

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/2ec5e7ba-08b0-43ae-a237-fbd2a6cad4c0 by Monica Arellano-Ongpin


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