Henri Matisse French painter, sculptor, and graphic artist.
Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.
His vast oeuvre encompassed painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic arts (as diverse as etchings, linocuts, lithographs, and aquatints), paper cutouts, and book illustration. His varied subjects comprised landscape, still life, portraiture, domestic and studio interiors, and particularly focused on the female figure.
Matisse was heavily influenced by art from other cultures. Having seen several exhibitions of Asian art, and having traveled to North Africa, he incorporated some of the decorative qualities of Islamic art, the angularity of African sculpture, and the flatness of Japanese prints into his own style.
Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in the Nord department in Northern France on New Year’s Eve in 1869, the oldest son of a wealthy grain merchant.
He grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois, Picardie, France. 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, Matisse moved to Paris for artistic training. He took instruction from famous, older artists at well-known schools such as the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. These schools taught according to the “academic method,” which required working from live models and copying the works of Old Masters, but Matisse was also exposed to the recent Post-Impressionist work of Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh while living in Paris.
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.”
Matisse painted his first masterpiece in 1897. It was called The Dinner Table. He continued to paint being influenced by artists such as van Gogh and Cezanne. He studied the works of J.M.W. Turner as well and even took on some of the style of Pointillism from Seurat.
His first exhibition was in 1901 and his first solo exhibition in 1904. His fondness for bright and expressive color 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
Between 1906 and 1917, he made several trips to Algeria and Morocco. He absorbed some African influences and introduced the use of black as a color, which brought a new boldness in the use of intense color as in L’Atelier Rouge.
The first painting of Matisse acquired by a public collection was “Still Life with Geranium” in 1910, today exhibited in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich.
In 1917, he relocated to a suburb of Nice on the French Riviera, and the more relaxed style of his work during the 1920s gained him critical acclaim as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting.
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.
In 1951, he completed 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 despite his atheism.
In 1952, he established a museum dedicated to his work, the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau, his hometown. This museum is now the third-largest collection of Matisse works in France.
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.