Henri Matisse (31 December 1869 - 3 November 1954), one of the undisputed masters of 20th century art, was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. Although he was initially labelled a Fauve (wild beast), by the 1920s he was increasingly hailed as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting. His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art.
Early life and education
Henri Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambresis, Nord, France. He grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois, Picardy, France, where his parents owned a flower business; he was their first son. In 1887
he went to Paris to study law, working as a court administrator in Le Cateau-Cambrésis after gaining his qualification. He first started to paint in 1889, after his mother brought him art
supplies during a period of convalescence following an attack of appendicitis. He discovered "a kind of paradise" as he later described it, and decided to become an artist, deeply disappointing
his father. In 1891, he returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and became a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. Initially he painted still-lifes and
landscapes in a traditional style, at which he achieved reasonable proficiency. Matisse was influenced by the works of earlier masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Poussin,
and Antoine Watteau, as well as by modern artists such as Edouard Manet, and by Japanese art. Chardin was one of Matisse's most admired painters; as an art student
he made copies of four Chardin paintings in the Louvre.
With the model Caroline Joblau, he had a daughter, Marguerite, born in 1894. In 1898 he married Amélie Noellie Parayre; the two raised Marguerite together and had two sons, Jean (born 1899) and Pierre (born 1900). Marguerite and Amélie often served as models for Matisse.
In 1896, Matisse, an unknown art student at the time, visited the Australian painter John Russell on the island Belle Ile off the coast of Brittany. Russell introduced him to Impressionism and to paintings of Vincent van Gogh - who had been a friend of Russell - and gave him one of Vincent van Gogh's drawings. Matisse's style changed completely; abandoning his earth-coloured palette for bright colours. He later said "Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me."
In 1898, on the advice of Camille Pissarro, he went to London to study the paintings of J. M. W. Turner and then went on a trip to Corsica. Upon his return to Paris in February 1899 he worked beside Albert Marquet and met André Derain, Jean Puy, and Jules Flandrin. Matisse immersed himself in the work of others and went into debt from buying work from painters he admired. The work he hung and displayed in his home included a plaster bust by Rodin, a painting by Gauguin, a drawing by Van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne's Three Bathers. In Cézanne's sense of pictorial structure and colour Matisse found his main inspiration.
Many of Matisse's paintings from 1898 to 1901 make use of a Divisionist technique he adopted after reading Paul Signac's essay, "Eugene Delacroix and Néo-impressionisme". His paintings of 1902-03, a period of material hardship for the artist, are comparatively somber and reveal a preoccupation with form. Having made his first attempt at sculpture, a copy after Antoine-Louis Barye, in 1899, he devoted much of his energy to working in clay, completing The Slave in 1903.
His first solo exhibition was at Ambroise Vollard's gallery in 1904, without much success. His fondness for bright and expressive colour became more pronounced after he spent the summer of 1904
painting in St. Tropez with the neo-Impressionists Signac and Henri Edmond Cross. In that year he painted the most important of his works in the neo-Impressionist style, Luxe, Calme et Volupté.
In 1905 he travelled southwards again to work with André Derain at Collioure. His paintings of this period are characterized by flat shapes and controlled lines, and use pointillism in a less rigorous
way than before.
In 1905, Matisse and a group of artists now known as "Fauves" exhibited together in a room at the Salon d'Automne. The paintings expressed emotion with wild, often dissonant colours, without regard for the subject's natural colours. Matisse showed Open Window and Woman with the Hat at the Salon. Critic Louis Vauxcelles described the work with the phrase "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" (Donatello among the wild beasts), referring to a Renaissance-type sculpture that shared the room with them. His comment was printed on 17 October 1905 in Gil Blas, a daily newspaper, and passed into popular usage. The exhibition garnered harsh criticism "A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public", said the critic Camille Mauclair but also some favourable attention. When the painting that was singled out for special condemnation, Matisse's Woman with a Hat, was bought by Gertrude and Leo Stein, the embattled artist's morale improved considerably.
Matisse was recognized as a leader of the Fauves, along with André Derain; the two were friendly rivals, each with his own followers. Other members were Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck. The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826 - 1898) was the movement's inspirational teacher; as a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he pushed his students to think outside of the lines of formality and to follow their visions.
What I dream of is an art of balance, purity, and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter... a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. ”
- Henri Matisse
In 1907 Apollinaire, commenting about Matisse in an article published in La Falange, said, "We are not here in the presence of an extravagant or an extremist undertaking: Matisse's art is eminently reasonable."
But Matisse's work of the time also encountered vehement criticism, and it was difficult for him to provide for his family. His controversial 1907 painting Nu bleu was burned in effigy at the Armory Show in
Chicago in 1913.
The decline of the Fauvist movement after 1906 did nothing to affect the rise of Matisse; many of his finest 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, with his conservative appearance and strict bourgeois work habits. He continued to absorb new influences: after viewing a large exhibition of Islamic art in Munich in 1910, he spent two months in Spain studying Moorish art. The effect on Matisse's art was a new boldness in the use of intense, unmodulated colour, as in L'Atelier Rouge (1911).
Matisse had a long association with the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin. He created one of his major works La Danse specially for Shchukin as part of a two painting commission, the other painting being Music, 1910. An earlier version of La Danse (1909) is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Gertrude Stein, Académie Matisse, and the Cone sisters
Around 1904 he met Pablo Picasso, who was 12 years younger than Matisse. The two became life-long friends as well as rivals and are often compared; one key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted
from nature, while Picasso was much more inclined to work from imagination. The subjects painted most frequently by both artists were women and still life, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully
realized interiors. Matisse and Picasso were first brought together at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas. During the first decade of the 20th century, Americans in Paris, Gertrude
Stein, her brothers Leo Stein, Michael Stein and Michael's wife Sarah were important collectors and supporters of Matisse's paintings. In addition Gertrude Stein's two American friends from Baltimore, the Cone sisters
Clarabel and Etta, became major patrons of Matisse and Picasso, collecting hundreds of their paintings. The Cone collection is now exhibited in the Baltimore Museum of Art.
While numerous artists visited the Stein salon, many of these artists were not represented among the paintings on the walls at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Where Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso's works dominated Leo and Gertrude Stein's collection, Sarah Stein's collection emphasized Matisse.
Among Pablo Picasso's acquaintances who also frequented the Saturday evenings were: Fernande Olivier (Picasso's mistress), Georges Braque, André Derain, the poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin
(Apollinaire's mistress and an artist in her own right), and Henri Rousseau.
His friends organized and financed the Académie Matisse in Paris, a private and non-commercial school in which Matisse instructed young artists. It operated from 1907 until 1911. Hans Purrmann and Sarah Stein were amongst several of his most loyal students.
There are always flowers for those who want to see them. ” - Henri Matisse
In 1917 Matisse relocated to Cimiez on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice. His work of the decade or so following this relocation shows a relaxation and a softening of his approach. This "return to order"
is characteristic of much art of the post-World War I period, and can be compared with the neoclassicism of Picasso and Stravinsky, and the return to traditionalism of Derain. His orientalist odalisque paintings are
characteristic of the period; while popular, some contemporary critics found this work shallow and decorative.
In the late 1920s Matisse notably once again engaged in active collaborations with other artists. He worked with not only Frenchmen, Dutch, Germans, and Spanish, but also a few Americans and recent American immigrants.
After 1930 a new vigor and bolder simplification appeared in his work. American art collector Albert C. Barnes convinced him to produce a large mural for the Barnes Foundation, The Dance II, which was completed in 1932. The Foundation owns several dozen other Matisse paintings.
He and his wife of 41 years separated in 1939. In 1941, he underwent surgery in which a colostomy was performed. Afterwards he started using a wheelchair, and until his death he was cared for by a Russian woman, Lydia Delektorskaya, formerly one of his models. With the aid of assistants he set about creating cut paper collages, often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés. His Blue Nudes series feature prime examples of this technique he called "painting with scissors"; they demonstrate the ability to bring his eye for colour and geometry to a new medium of utter simplicity, but with playful and delightful power.
In 1947 he published Jazz, a limited-edition book containing prints of colorful paper cut collages, accompanied by his written thoughts. In the 1940s he also worked as a graphic artist and produced black-and-white illustrations for several books and over one hundred original lithographs at the Mourlot Studios in Paris.
Matisse, thoroughly unpolitical, was shocked when he heard that his daughter Marguerite, who had been active in the Résistance during the war, was tortured (almost to death) in a Rennes prison and sentenced to the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
According to David Rockefeller, Matisse's final work was the design for a stained-glass window installed at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills near the Rockefeller estate north of New York City. "It was his final artistic creation; the maquette was on the wall of his bedroom when he died in November of 1954", Rockefeller writes. Installation was completed in 1956.
If my story were ever to be written truthfully from start to finish, it would amaze everyone. ”
- Henri Matisse
In 1951 Matisse finished a four-year project of designing the interior, the glass windows and the decorations of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, often referred to as the Matisse Chapel. This project was the result of
the close friendship between Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie. He had hired her as a nurse and model in 1941 before she became a Dominican nun and they met again in Vence and started the collaboration, a story related
in her 1992 book Henri Matisse: La Chapelle de Vence and in the 2003 documentary "A Model for Matisse".
He established a museum dedicated to his work in 1952, in his birthplace city, and this museum is now the third-largest collection of Matisse works in France.
Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, near Nice. Just like William Shakespeare on literature, and Sigmund Freud on psychology, Henri Matisse's impact on Fauvism movement is tremendous. Thanks to the influence he had on painting following the Second World War, Henri Matisse's reputation is higher than it has ever been before. Following the the principle discussed by Hans Hofmann, that color was responsible for structural configurations behind the picture, was showcased in American abstract art. Works of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and other color field painters, showcased this style in their pieces. Following this concept, Matisse is an influential figure of the 20th century, and a decisive figure of the time. By defining a clearly pictoral language, of colors and arabasque lines, rather than looking at painting as a means to an end, Matisse had a great impact on future movements, and works, produced by artists in the 20th century.