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Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

The French painter and sculptor Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was one of the great initiators of the modern art movement and the most outstanding personality of the first revolution in 20th-century art—Fauvism.

About the turn of the 20th century there were several artists who simultaneously and independently of each other developed a taste for strong color. This liking was derived from the work of Vincent Van Gogh, that of the divisionists (or pointillists), and Paul Gauguin's experience of primitivism in Tahiti. The combination of a primary color scheme with the primitive approach to visual experience, in which simplification and distortion enhance expressiveness, resulted in Fauvism, which initiated the modern movement.

The greatest master of modern sophistication, Henri Matisse, learned from the manner in which children draw how to see natural objects in an innocent way, as if perceiving them for the first time. Matisse was the artist who fulfilled the national tradition of French painting in the modern movement. When cubism entered the arena as a new alternative to the art of the past, what entered with it was the analytical, cerebral quality in modern art. Fauvism, on the other hand, represented in its first stage the victory of sensualism, which particularly through color transmitted its message with a strong direct impact. Fauvism developed in the oeuvre of Matisse into a classical art. A balance was achieved between color, expressing light, and form, presenting objects as pure forms in a two-dimensional manner without any illusionism.

Henri Matisse was born on Dec. 31, 1869, at Le Cateau-Cambrésis. After the war of 1870-71 his family returned to Bohain-en-Vermandois. Matisse's father was a corn merchant, his mother an amateur painter. He studied law from 1887 to 1891 and then decided to go to Paris and become a painter. He worked under Adolphe William Bouguereau at the Académie Julian in Paris, but he left in 1892 to enter the studio of Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied until 1897. Moreau was a liberal teacher who did not interfere with the individuality of his pupils, among whom were Georges Rouault, Albert Marquet, Henri Manguin, Charles Camoin, and Jean Puy. Moreau encouraged his students to look at nature and to paint outdoors, as well as to frequent the museums. Matisse copied pictures by Philippe de Champaigne, Nicolas Poussin, and Jean Baptiste Chardin in the Louvre and painted outdoors in Paris.

About 1898, under the influence of impressionism, Matisse's palette became lighter, as in his seascapes of Belle-Île and landscapes of Corsica and the Côte d'Azur. Although impressionist in character, these early works of Matisse already show a noticeable emphasis on color and simplified forms. Matisse married in 1898 and visited London in the same year to study the works of J. M. W. Turner on Camille Pissarro's advice. On his return to Paris he attended classes at the Académie Carrière, where he met André Derain. Matisse created his first sculptures in 1899.

From 1900 Matisse suffered great material hardship for years. In 1902 the artist, his wife, and their three children were forced to return to Bohain. In 1903 the Salon d'Automne was founded, and Matisse exhibited there. From 1900 to 1903, under the influence of Paul Cézanne, Matisse produced still lifes and nudes which excel in clarity and harmony. In 1904 he had his first one-man show at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard in Paris and spent the summer in Saint-Tropez, where Paul Signac lived. Signac bought Matisse's famous picture Luxe, calme et volupté (1904-1905), which was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. In 1905 Matisse painted with Derain at Collioure; the works Matisse executed there are the very essence of Fauvism in their vivid colors and flat patterning.

Fauve Period

Matisse's Fauve period extended from 1905 to 1908, during which time he executed a magnificent series of masterpieces. Three groups of artists made up the Fauvist movement, centered on Matisse. The first group was that of the Atelier Moreau and the Académie Carrière: Marquet, Manguin, Camoin, and Puy. The second group consisted of the two artists who painted at Châtou: Maurice Vlaminck and Derain. The third was the Le Havre group: Othon Friesz, Raoul Dufy, and Georges Braque. The Dutch painter Kees van Dongen also belonged to the Fauves. At the 1905 Salon d'Automne the Fauves made their first public appearance. In 1906 Matisse's Joie de vivre was exhibited at the Indépendants; the painting, which is arranged in a series of unbroken surfaces related by color harmonies and embodies his new ideas, gained him the title of the King of the Fauves. The American collector Leo Stein began to buy his work.

Matisse made his first trip to North Africa in 1906. His Blue Nude, or Souvenir de Biskra (1907), is a memento of the journey. In this painting he experimented with contrapposto (an undulating S-curve pose), and he used the same form in the sculpture Reclining Nude I (1907). He had established a studio in the former Convent des Oiseaux in 1905; this became a meeting place for foreign artists. He developed into the leader of an international art school with mainly German and Scandinavian pupils who spread his ideas. His "Notes of a Painter," published in La Grande revue in 1908, became the artistic credo of a whole generation. Matisse was an amiable man and looked more like a shy government official than an artist. He never accepted any fees for his tuition so that he might remain free to take his leave at any time, should this commitment interfere with his creative activity.

Change in Style

Between 1908 and 1913 Matisse made journeys to Spain, Germany, Russia, and Africa. In Munich he saw the exhibition of Islamic art (1910), and in Moscow he studied Russian icons (1911). Russian collectors began to buy his pictures. He produced five sculptures—heads of Jeannette—during 1910 and 1911, which show affinities with African masks and sculptures. His Moroccan journey of 1911-12 had a decisive influence on his development, exemplified in Dance, Music, the Red Fishes, and the series of interiors recording his studio and its contents. They show a stern and compact style with blacks and grays, mauves, greens, and ochers. Great Matisse exhibitions were held in 1910, 1913, and 1919.

By 1919 Matisse had become an internationally known master. His style at that time was characterized by the use of pure colors and their sophisticated interplay (harmonies and contrasts); the two-dimensionality of the picture surface enriched by decorative patterns taken from wallpapers, Oriental carpets, and fabrics; and the musicality of outlines and arabesques, the human figures being treated in the same manner as the decorative elements. The goal of Matisse's art was the portrayal of the joy of living in contrast to the stresses of our technological age. Between 1920 and 1925 he executed a series of odalisques, such as the Odalisque with Raised Arms; this period has been called an oasis of lightness.

Last Years

In 1925 Matisse was made chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1927 he received the first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition at Pittsburgh. After a visit to Tahiti, Matisse was a guest at the Barnes Foundation at Merion, Pa., and accepted Dr. Barnes's commission to paint a mural, The Dance (1932-1933), for the hall of the foundation. A crescendo of work distinguished his life. He produced paintings, drawings, book illustrations (etchings and lithographs), sculptures (he made 54 bronzes altogether), ballet sets, and designs for tapestry and glass. He spent the war years in the south of France. In 1944 Pablo Picasso arranged for him to be represented in the Salon d'Automne to celebrate the Liberation.

Matisse considered the culmination of his lifework to be his design and decoration of the Chapel of the Rosary for the Dominican nuns at Vence (1948-1951). He designed the black-and-white tile pictures, stained glass, altar crucifix, and vestments. At the time of the consecration of the Vence chapel Matisse held a large retrospective exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The ultimate step in the art of Matisse was taken in his papiers découpés, abstract cutouts in colored paper, executed in the mid-1940s, for example, the Negro Boxer, Tristesse du roi, and Jazz. The master died on Nov. 3, 1954, in Cimiez near Nice.

Further Reading

The most comprehensive study of Matisse to date is Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse, His Art and His Public (1951), which includes biography, a full bibliography, and documentation. Older studies of interest are Roger Fry, Henri Matisse (1935), and Henry McBride, Matisse (1930). Of the more recent works, University of California at Los Angeles, Art Council, Henri Matisse, with text by Jean Leymarie and others (1966), provides commentary and representative selections from all of Matisse's work. Georges Duthuit, The Fauvist Painters (1950), and Jean Leymarie, Fauvism: Biographical and Critical Study (1959), contain detailed information on Matisse and his work. □

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Matisse, Henri

Henri Matisse

Born: December 31, 1869
Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France

Died: November 3, 1954
Cimiez, France

French painter and sculptor

The French painter and sculptor Henri Matisse was one of the great initiators of the modern art movement, which uses the combination of bold primary colors and free, simple forms. He was also the most outstanding personality of the first revolution in twentieth century artFauvism (style of art that uses color and sometimes distorted forms to send its message).

Childhood and art education

Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869, in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. After the war of 187071 his family moved to Bohain-en-Vermandois, France. Matisse's father was a corn merchant, his mother an amateur painter. Matisse studied law from 1887 to 1891 and then decided to go to Paris, France, to become a painter. He worked under Adolphe William Bouguereau (18251905) at the Académie Julian in Paris, but he left in 1892 to enter the studio of Gustave Moreau (18261898) at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied until 1897. Moreau was a liberal teacher who did not interfere with the individuality of his pupils. He encouraged his students to look at nature and to paint outdoors, as well as to frequently visit the museums. Matisse copied paintings in the Louvre and painted outdoors in Paris.

Begins with impressionism and moves to Fauvism

About 1898, under the influence of impressionism (an art form using dabs of paint in primary colors to create an image representing a brief glance rather than a long study), the colors Matisse used became lighter, as in his seascapes of Belle-Île and landscapes of Corsica and the Côte d'Azur (coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea). Although impressionist in character, these early works of Matisse already showed a noticeable emphasis on color and simplified forms. Matisse married in 1898 and visited London, England, in the same year to study. On his return to Paris he attended classes at the Académie Carrière, where he met André Derain (18801954). Matisse created his first sculptures in 1899.

From 1900 Matisse struggled financially for years. In 1902 the artist, his wife Amélie, and their three children were forced to return to Bohain. In 1903 the Salon d'Automne was founded, and Matisse exhibited there. From 1900 to 1903, under the influence of Paul Cézanne (18391906), Matisse produced still lifes and nudes. In 1904 he had his first one-man show at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard in Paris and spent the summer in Saint-Tropez, France. In 1905 Matisse painted with Derain at Collioure; the works Matisse created there are excellent examples of Fauvism in their bright colors and flat patterning.

Fauve period

Matisse's Fauve period extended from 1905 to 1908, during which time he completed a brilliant series of masterpieces. At the 1905 Salon d'Automne these paintings, known as the Fauves, made their first public appearance. In 1906 Matisse's Joie de vivre was exhibited at the Indépendants; the painting gained him the title of the "King of the Fauves."

Matisse made his first trip to North Africa in 1906. His Blue Nude, or Souvenir de Biskra (1907), is a memento of the journey. In this painting he experimented with contrapposto (an S-curve pose), and he used the same form in the sculpture Reclining Nude I (1907). He had established a studio in the former Convent des Oiseaux in 1905; this became a meeting place for foreign artists. He developed into the leader of an international art school with mainly German and Scandinavian pupils who spread his ideas. His "Notes of a Painter," published in La Grande revue in 1908, became the artistic handbook of a whole generation. Matisse was a pleasant man who looked more like a shy government official than an artist. He never accepted any fees for his teaching so that he was not obligated to staying in one place. He did not want commitments to interfere with his creative activity.

Change in style

Between 1908 and 1913 Matisse made journeys to Spain, Germany, Russia, and Africa. In Munich, Germany, he saw an exhibition of Islamic art (1910), and in Moscow, Russia, he studied Russian icons (1911). Russian collectors began to buy his paintings. He produced five sculpturesheads of Jeannetteduring 1910 and 1911, which show a resemblance to African masks and sculptures. His Moroccan journey of 191112 had a positive influence on his development, which is seen in Dance, Music, the Red Fishes, and the series of interiors recording his studio and its contents. They show a stern and compact style with blacks and grays, mauves, greens, and ochers (brown tones). Great Matisse exhibitions were held in 1910, 1913, and 1919.

By 1919 Matisse had become an internationally known master. His style at that time was characterized by the use of pure colors and their complex interplay (harmonies and contrasts); the two-dimensionality of the picture surface enriched by decorative patterns taken from wallpapers, Oriental carpets, and fabrics; the human figures being treated in the same manner as the decorative elements. The goal of Matisse's art was the portrayal of the joyful living in contrast to the stresses of our technological age. Between 1920 and 1925 he completed a series of odalisques (female slaves), such as the Odalisque with Raised Arms; this period has been called an oasis of lightness.

Last years

In 1925 Matisse was made chevalier, the lowest ranking member of the Legion of Honor, and in 1927 he received the first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition at Pittsburgh. After a visit to Tahiti, Matisse was a guest at the Barnes Foundation at Merion, Pennsylvania, and accepted Dr. Barnes's commission to paint a mural, The Dance (19321933), for the hall of the foundation. During the next years he produced paintings, drawings, book illustrations (etchings and lithographs), sculptures (he made fifty-four bronzes altogether), ballet sets, and designs for tapestry and glass. In 1944 Pablo Picasso (18811973) arranged for him to be represented in the Salon d'Automne to celebrate the liberation of Paris from Nazi rule.

Matisse considered the peak of his life-work to be his design and decoration of the Chapel of the Rosary for the Dominican nuns at Vence, France (19481951). He designed the black-and-white tile pictures, stained glass, altar crucifix, and vestments (ceremonial robes). At the time of the consecration (declaration of sacredness) of the Vence chapel, Matisse held a large retrospective exhibition (a look back at the work he created) in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The ultimate step in the art of Matisse was taken in his papiers découpés, abstract cutouts in colored paper, executed in the mid-1940s, for example, the Negro Boxer, Tristesse du roi, and Jazz. The master died on November 3, 1954, in Cimiez, France, near Nice.

For More Information

Flux, Paul. Henri Matisse. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2002.

Herrera, Hayden. Matisse: A Portrait. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993.

Schneider, Pierre. Matisse. Edited by Michael Taylor and Bridget Strevens Romer. New York: Rizzoli, 1984.

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Matisse, Henri

Henri Matisse (äNrē´ mätēs´), 1869–1954, French painter, sculptor, and lithographer. Along with Picasso, Matisse is considered one of the two foremost artists of the modern period. His contribution to 20th-century art is inestimably great.

Matisse began to study law and, during an illness in 1890, took up painting, thereafter forsaking law entirely. He studied first with the academician Bouguereau and then with Gustave Moreau, in whose studio he met many painters who would soon attain prominence with him in the fauvist movement. Matisse's earliest work was exceptionally mature. He explored impressionism (e.g., La Desserte, 1897; Niarchos Coll., Athens) and, coming into contact with the theories of Paul Signac, drew upon neoimpressionist styles as in Luxe, calme et volupté (c.1905; private coll.). To learn aspects of composition he made variations on the works of the old masters in the Louvre, a practice he continued for many years (e.g., Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, c.1915; S. A. Marx Coll., Chicago).

Matisse began exhibiting in 1896 and at first was unsuccessful. In 1905 at Collioure, a Mediterranean village, he began using pure primary color as a significant structural element. His portrait of Mme Matisse, known as The Green Line (1905; State Mus., Copenhagen), exemplifies this abstract, intellectual use of color. In 1905 he exhibited at the Salon d'automne with the group of artists called fauves [Fr.,=wild beasts], so named for their remarkable, exuberant use of color. Matisse became a leader of fauvism, delighting in vivid color for its sensual and decorative value.

After the demise of fauvism Matisse continued to use color to communicate his joy in bold pattern and striking ornament, e.g., in The Moorish Screen (1921; Phila. Mus. of Art) and Lady in Blue (1937; private coll.). He experimented frequently with different sorts of expressive abstraction, as in The Blue Nude (1907; Baltimore Mus. of Art), Mlle Landsberg (1914; Phila. Mus. of Art), and The Piano Lesson (1916; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City), but he rejected cubism in order to develop his own ideas. In 1908 Matisse wrote out his theories for La Grande Revue; he wished, if possible, to paint a visual representation of his emotional reaction to a subject rather than its realistic appearance. By 1909 the artist's fame was worldwide.

Matisse's early sculpture reveals an interest in African art and in Rodin. Matisse designed for the ballet (1920, 1938) and illustrated works by Mallarmé (1932) and Baudelaire (1944), among many others. His superbly simple line drawings rank among the greatest works of graphic art of the 20th cent. In his last years he also made brilliant paper cutouts and stencils (e.g., Jazz, 1947; Philadelphia Mus. of Art), as gay and as strong in design as his earliest work. When he was nearly 80, Matisse volunteered to decorate the Dominican nuns' chapel at Vence, France. His fresh and joyous works for the chapel include black-and-white murals, semiabstract stained-glass windows, a stone altar, a bronze cross, carved doors, and an array of colorful vestments. His work on the chapel was completed in 1951, and Matisse declared it his masterpiece.

The largest collections of Matisse's works are in the Baltimore Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

See catalog from his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City (1992); biography by H. Spurling (2 vol., 1998–2005); J. Russell, Matisse: Father and Son (1999); studies by J. Guichard-Meili (tr. 1967) and L. Aragon (2 vol., tr. 1972).

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