Occupation: Painting, Engraving, Sculpting, Draughting
Movement: Fauvism, Modernism, Impressionism
“Harmony in Red,” 1908
“La Danse,” 1910
“The Moroccans,” 1916
“Portrait de famille,” 1917
“Odalisque with Arms Raised,” 1923
“Annelies, White Tulips and Anemones,” 1944
“Plum Blossoms,” 1948
Henri Matisse was a French painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. He is considered one of the most influential artists of the early 20th century. He was one of the leaders of the Fauvist movement and his stylistic innovations had an impact on generations of artists after him.
Early Life and Education
Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse was born on December 31, 1869, in the northern French commune of Le Cateau-Cambrésis. He was raised in the industrial town of Bohain-en-Vermandois and after spending some time working as a legal clerk, studied law in Paris between 1887 and 1888. Matisse worked at a legal firm in Saint Quentin but by the time he was 21, he had given up law and started to paint.
His introduction to painting was by chance. When he was recovering from an attack of appendicitis in 1889, his mother brought him art material. He would recall later that in that instant he had discovered his calling in life.
He returned to Paris in 1891 to study art and spent one fruitless year at the Académie Julian. He followed that up by a stint at the École des Beaux-Arts. However, it was his teacher Gustave Moreau who nurtured out-of-the-box thinking in Matisse.
The artist initially worked in the natural style taught in the academies and his paintings consisted largely of still life and nudes. By the mid 1890s, he had been introduced to the Post-Impressionist work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, which had a transformative effect on his work. He was also deeply influenced by George Seurat’s Pointillism a few years after.
In 1898, Matisse travelled to England, where he studied the works of JMW Turner. After returning to Paris, he continued to be absorbed by the works of other artists including Paul Gauguin, Auguste Rodin, Cézanne and van Gogh. His paintings from this period reveal a strong interest in color theory as well as form, and exploration of the Divisionist technique. He had already begun displaying his work in group exhibitions including the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in the 1890s, for which he received some attention. In 1901, he displayed at the more progressive Salon des Indépendants. His first solo show was held at the gallery of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1904.
Fauvism, derived from the French term ‘les Fauves’ (the wild beasts), was a style practiced by a group of Modern artists in the first decade of the 20th century where in the emphasis was more on painterly qualities and strong color as opposed to the realistic and representational qualities of Impressionism.
The movement, led by Matisse and André Derain displayed the use of wild brushstrokes and bold colors along with a high level of abstraction of subjects. Matisse’s interactions with his teachers Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts and later, John Peter Russell, were to have a defining influence on the development of Fauvism. Matisse would later attribute his understanding of color to Russell, an Australian painter who was instrumental in introducing the artist to Impressionism and to the work of Van Gogh.
A visit to the island of Saint Tropez in 1904–05 provided material and inspiration for painting bright canvases with a play of light. Through his painting, Matisse attempted to capture the mood rather than making realistic depictions of what he saw. For material, Matisse primarily turned to interiors, women and still life.
As he found his own style, Matisse also found greater success in the art world. His work was included in the 1913 Armory Show in New York and bought by well-known collectors such as Gertrude Stein. Sergei I Shchukin, the Russian businessman, commissioned the paintings “Dance I” and “Music” in 1909–10 and by 1923, he owned several of Matisse’s works. Matisse was able to travel around Europe and North Africa and buy himself a large studio in a suburb of Paris.
From the 1920s till the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, Matisse divided his time between Paris and Nice on the French Riviera. In addition to his paintings that depicted loose, fluid forms and his continuing engagement with color theory, he also started making prints, sculptures and designing sets.
Matisse had two major operations in 1941–42, which left him bedridden. However, he continued to work by attaching a pencil or charcoal to the end of a long pole that helped him reach the canvas.
In the 1940s, he experimented with the paper cutout (papiers découpés) technique he had earlier devised; the book ‘Jazz’, published in 1947 and written and illustrated by Matisse was made using this technique. ‘Jazz’ is regarded as the most famous illustrated book of the era. Matisse had started cutting out colored paper as a technique for composing canvasses in 1930s. He called the technique ‘drawing with scissors.’
Matisse completed a major project designing the interiors, decorations and glass windows of the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, in 1951. A major retrospective of his work was held at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in the same year, which was also taken to other American cities. A museum dedicated to the artist, the Musée Matisse was inaugurated the following year at his birthplace, Le Cateau–Cambrésis.
The most expensive Matisse painting sold so far is his 1911 oil painting ‘Les coucous, tapis blue et rose’ that fetched a record £28.4 million at an auction of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection in Paris in February 2009.
Matisse married Amélie Noellie Parayre in 1898; the two raised his daughter from an earlier relationship, Marguerite, and also had two sons, Jean and Pierre.
Matisse died in Nice on November 3, 1954, at the age of 84.
1869 - Born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis
1887 - Enrolls at the Faculty of Law at the University of Paris
1889 - Takes early morning art classes at the École Quentin de la Tour in Saint-Quentin
1891 - Moves to Paris to study at the Académie Julien
1895 - Accepted at the École National des Beaux-Arts de Paris
1894 - Birth of his daughter Marguerite by the model Caroline Jonblaud
1898 - Marries Amélie Parayre
1899 - Birth of his son Jean
1900 - Birth of his son Pierre, joins the Académie de la Grande Chaumière
1907 - Meets Gertrude Stein
1912 - Travels to Morocco
1921 - Moves to Nice
1930 - Travels to Tahiti
1947 - Publication of his book, “Jazz”
1952 - Opening of the Matisse Museum at La Cateau-Cambrésis
1942 - Dies in Nice
1896 - Salon des Cent, Paris
1901 - Salon des Indépendants, Paris
1902 - Galerie Berthe Weill, Paris
1903 - Salon d’Automne, Paris
1904 - First one man show at Galerie Vollard, Paris
1910 - Retrospective at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris
1913 - The Armory Show, New York
1915 - Montross Gallery, New York
1919 - Leicester Galleries, London
1924 - Retrospective at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
1931 - Retrospective at Galeries Georges Petit, Paris
1945 - Retrospective at the Salon d’Automne, Paris
Le Musée Matisse, Nice
Musée Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Musée do”Orsay, Paris
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Céret Museum of Modern Art
Musée Cantini, Marseilles
Musée de Grenoble
Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon
Art Institute of Chicago
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery, London
Tate Gallery, London
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo
Goulandris Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Andros Island
Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome
“Matisse,” by Kampis Antal
“Chatting with Henri Matisse: The Lost 1941 Interview,” by Getty Publications
“Matisse & Picasso,” by Paul Trachtman
“The Unknown Matisse: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Early Years, 1869-1908,” by Hilary Spurling
“Matisse in Morocco: The Paintings and Drawings, 1912-1912,” by Jack Cowart, Pierre Schneider, and John Elderfield
“Henri Matisse: Modernist Against the Grain,” by Catherine Bock-Weiss