Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was a French painter, draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor. He is known for his use of color and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a leading figure of Modern Art and at home in many styles.

Matisse was born as the eldest son of a prosperous grain merchant. Studied law and worked as a court administrator before he started painting in 1889 very much to the disappointment of his father.

Initially a painter of still-lives and landscapes in the traditional style, he was greatly influenced by Russell whom he visited in 1896 and 1897. Russell introduced Matisse to Impressionism and the work of van Gogh. In the following years Matisse traveled to London to study the work of Turner and to Corsica, before he returned to Paris and worked alongside Marquet, Derain, Flandrin and Puy. He went into debt to buy work of artists he admired like Rodin, van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne, his main inspiration.

Matisse’s early work uses Divisionist techniques. It is relatively sober and reveals a preoccupation with form. Then his fondness for bright and expressive colors became more prevalent. He used Pointillism less rigorous and his paintings were more characterized by flat shapes and controlled lines.

Together with Derain Matisse became the leading figure of Fauvism. He faced great criticism. One of his paintings Nu Bleu was even burned in effigy at a show at Chicago in 1913.

He continued his work and was part of the Montparnasse artist group, though he never really fit in. He studied African art and Primitivism in Algeria, Islamic art at a show in Munich, Moorish art in Spain and visited Morocco, where he added black to his palette of colors (Impressionists never used black).

Matisse and Picasso met at Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris and became life-long friends. The Stein’s and the Cone sisters became the major patrons of both of them.

In 1917 Matisse moved to a suburb of Nice where his approach relaxed and softened. He returned to order, just as much of the post WWI art did. In the late 20s he started again to collaborate with other artists. The 30s saw a simplification of his work. After he separated from his wife of 41 years and underwent surgery in 1941 that left him wheelchair bound, he started to work with cut paper collages. Matisse final work was the design for a stain glass window at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, North of NYC. He died of a heart attack in 1954.

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