French Painter, Draftsman, and Collagist
Le Cateau-Cambresis, Picardy, France
Summary of Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the 20th century and as a rival to Pablo Picasso in the importance of his innovations. He emerged as a Post-Impressionist, and first achieved prominence as the leader of the French movement Fauvism. Although interested in Cubism, he rejected it, and instead sought to use color as the foundation for expressive, decorative, and often monumental paintings. As he once controversially wrote, he sought to create an art that would be "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair." Still life and the nude remained favorite subjects throughout his career; North Africa was also an important inspiration, and, towards the end of his life, he made an important contribution to collage with a series of works using cut-out shapes of color. He is also highly regarded as a sculptor.
- Matisse used pure colors and the white of exposed canvas to create a light-filled atmosphere in his Fauve paintings. Rather than using modeling or shading to lend volume and structure to his pictures, Matisse used contrasting areas of pure, unmodulated color. These ideas continued to be important to him throughout his career.
- His art was important in endorsing the value of decoration in modern art. However, although he is popularly regarded as a painter devoted to pleasure and contentment, his use of color and pattern is often deliberately disorientating and unsettling.
- 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 once declared that he wanted his art to be one "of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter," and this aspiration was an important influence on some, such as Clement Greenberg, who looked to art to provide shelter from the disorientation of the modern world.
- The human figure was central to Matisse's work both in sculpture and painting. Its importance for his Fauvist work reflects his feeling that the subject had been neglected in Impressionism, and it continued to be important to him. At times he fragmented the figure harshly, at other times he treated it almost as a curvilinear, decorative element. Some of his work reflects the mood and personality of his models, but more often he used them merely as vehicles for his own feelings, reducing them to ciphers in his monumental designs.
Biography of Henri Matisse
Matisse meticulously experimented with art, trying and retrying ideas saying: "I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me."
Important Art by Henri Matisse
The title of this painting is taken from the refrain of Charles Baudelaire's poem, Invitation to a Voyage (1857), in which a man invites his lover to travel with him to paradise. The landscape is likely based on the view from Paul Signac's house in Saint-Tropez, where Matisse was vacationing. Most of the women are nude (in the manner of a traditional classical idyll), but one woman - thought to represent the painter's wife - wears contemporary dress. This is Matisse's only major painting in the Neo-Impressionist mode, and its technique was inspired by the Pointillism of Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. He differs from the approach of those painters, however, in the way in which he outlines figures to give them emphasis.
Matisse attacked conventional portraiture with this image of his wife. Amelie's pose and dress are typical for the day, but Matisse roughly applied brilliant color across her face, hat, dress, and even the background. This shocked his contemporaries when he sent the picture to the 1905 Salon d'Automne. Leo Stein called it, "the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen," yet he and Gertrude bought it for the importance they knew it would have to modern painting.
During his Fauve years Matisse often painted landscapes in the south of France during the summer and worked up ideas developed there into larger compositions upon his return to Paris. Joy of Live, the second of his important imaginary compositions, is typical of these. He used a landscape he had painted in Collioure to provide the setting for the idyll, but it is also influenced by ideas drawn from Watteau, Poussin, Japanese woodcuts, Persian miniatures, and 19th-century Orientalist images of harems. The scene is made up of independent motifs arranged to form a complete composition. The massive painting and its shocking colors received mixed reviews at the Salon des Indépendants. Critics noted its new style -- broad fields of color and linear figures, a clear rejection of Paul Signac's celebrated Pointillism.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Henri Matisse
- The Unknown MatisseOur PickBy Hilary Spurling
- Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954By Hilary Spurling
- Matisse And Picasso: The Story Of Their Rivalry And FriendshipBy Jack Flam
- Matisse's "Notes of a Painter": Criticism, Theory, and Context, 1891-1908Our PickBy Roger Benjamin
- JazzBy Henri Matisse, Riva Castleman
- Matisse on ArtBy Henri Matisse, Jack Flam
- Henri Matisse: A RetrospectiveOur PickBy John Elderfield
- Matisse: A RetrospectiveBy Jack Flam
- Henri Matisse: A Master of the Modern EraBBC Documentary with Alastair Sooke
- Henri Matisse vs. Pablo Picasso: MoMA curators interview (2003)Charlie Rose interviews curators Kirk Varnedoe and John Elderfield about the exhibition "Matisse Picasso"
- Henri Matisse: A Cut Above the RestBBC Documentary with Alastair Sooke
- Matisse and the NunBy Rebecca Spence / ARTnews / December 1, 2005
- Meet the Meticulous Mob of "Wild Beast" MatisseBy Hilton Kramer / The New York Observer / November 19, 2001
- Kenneth Noland on Matisse's The Snail (1953)Interview by Martin Gayford / The Telegraph / October 13, 2001
- Matisse at the ModernOur PickFrieze Magazine / January - February 1993
- The Unknown Matisse...Transcript of interview with biographer Hilary Spurling / ABC Radio National / August 5, 2005
- Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953Tate Modern: Modern Paint Podcast