Henri Matisse

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Artists

Photo of Henri Matisse taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1933.
Photo of Henri Matisse taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1933.

Henri Matisse ( December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954) was a French artist, noted for his use of colour and his fluid, brilliant and original draftsmanship. As a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but principally as a painter, Matisse is one of the best-known artists of the twentieth century.


Born Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse in 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, he grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois. 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 painting during a period of convalescence following an attack of appendicitis, and discovered "a kind of paradise" as he later described it. In 1891 he returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and became a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau. Influenced by the works of the post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Paul Signac, and also by Japanese art, he made colour a crucial element of his paintings from the first. Many of his paintings from 1899 to 1905 make use of a pointillist technique adopted from Signac.

Self-Portrait in a Striped T-shirt (1906)
Self-Portrait in a Striped T-shirt (1906)

His first exhibition was in 1901 and his first solo exhibition in 1904. His fondness for bright and expressive colour became more pronounced after he moved southwards in 1905 to work with André Derain and spent time on the French Riviera. The paintings of this period are characterized by flat shapes and controlled lines, with expression dominant over detail. He became known as a leader of the Fauves (wild beasts), a group of artists which also included Derain, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Maurice Vlaminck. 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.

He was a friend as well as rival of his younger contemporary Picasso, to whom he is often compared. A 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 lifes, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully realized interiors.

The Dessert: Harmony In Red (1908), one of Matisse's most famous paintings.
The Dessert: Harmony In Red (1908), one of Matisse's most famous paintings.

Matisse lived in Cimiez on the French Riviera, now a suburb of the city of Nice, from 1917 until his death in 1954. 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. After 1930 a new rigor and bolder simplification appear. In 1941 he was diagnosed with cancer and, following surgery, he used a wheelchair. Matisse did not allow this setback to halt his work, and with the aid of assistants he started creating cut paper collages, often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés. His Blue Nudes series feature prime examples of this technique; these demonstrate the ability to bring his eye for colour and geometry to a new medium of utter simplicity, but with playful and delightful power.

The first painting of Matisse acquired by a public collection was "Still Life with Geranium" in 1910, today exhibited in the Pinakothek der Moderne.

Today, a Matisse painting can fetch as much as US $17 million. In 2002, a Matisse sculpture, "Reclining Nude I (Dawn)," sold for US $9.2 million, a record for a sculpture by the artist.

Partial list of works

  • Notre-Dame, une fin d'après-midi (1902),
  • Green Stripe (1905),
  • The Open Window (1905),
  • Woman with a Hat (1905),
  • Les toits de collioure (1905),
  • Le bonheur de vivre (1906),
  • The Young Sailor II (1906),
  • Madras Rouge (1907),
  • Blue Nudes (1952),
  • Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) (1907),
  • The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room) (1908),
  • The Conversation (1909),
  • La Danse (1909),
  • L'Atelier Rouge (1911),
  • Zorah on the Terrace (1912),
  • Le Rifain assis (1912),
  • Le rideau jaune (the yellow curtain) (1915) ,
  • La lecon de musique (1917),
  • The Painter and His Model (1917),
  • Interior A Nice (1920),
  • Odalisque with Raised Arms (1923),
  • Yellow Odalisque (1926),
  • Robe violette et Anemones (1937),
  • Purple robe with Anemones (1937),
  • Le Reve de 1940 (1940),
  • L'Asie (1946),
  • Deux fillettes, fond jaune et rouge (1947),
  • Jazz (1947),
  • The Plum Blossoms (1948),
  • Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire (1948, completed in 1951),
  • Beasts of the Sea (1950),
  • Black Leaf on Green Background (1952),
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