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Henri Matisse

 (1869 - 1954)
Henri Matisse was active/lived in France.  Henri Matisse is known for fauve modernist painting; sculpture.

Henri Matisse

    mah-TEECE  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Henri Matisse came from a family who were of Flemish origin and lived near the Belgian border.  At eight o'clock on the evening of December 31, 1869, he was born in his grandparents' home in the town of Le Cateau in the cheerless far north of France.  His father was a self-made seed merchant who was a mixture of determination and tightly coiled tension.

Henri had no clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life.  He was a twenty-year-old law clerk convalescing from appendicitis when he first began to paint, using a box of colors given to him by his mother.  Little more than a year later, in 1890, he had abandoned law and was studying art in Paris.  The classes consisted of drawing from plaster casts and nude models and of copying paintings in the Louvre.  He soon rebelled against the school's conservative atmosphere; he replaced the dark tones of his earliest works with brighter colors that reflected his awareness of Impressionism.  Matisse was also a violinist; he took an odd pride in the notion that if his painting eye failed, he could support his family by fiddling on the streets of Paris.

Henri found a girlfriend while studying art, and he fathered a daughter, Marguerite, by her in 1894.  In 1898 he married another woman, Amelie Parayre.  She adopted the beloved Marguerite; they eventually had two sons, Jean, a sculptor and Pierre who became an eminent art dealer.  Relations between Matisse and his wife were often strained.  He often dallied with other women, and they finally separated in 1939 over a model who had been hired as a companion for Mme. Matisse.  She was Madame Lydia, and after Mme. Matisse left, she remained with Matisse until he died.

Matisse spent the summer of 1905 working with Andre Derain in the small Mediterranean seaport of Collioure.  They began using bright and dissonant colors. When they and their colleagues exhibited together, they caused a sensation.  The critics and the public considered their paintings to be so crude and so roughly crafted that the group became known as Les Fauves (the wild beasts).

By 1907, Matisse moved on from the concerns of Fauvism and turned his attention to studies of the human figure.  He had begun to sculpt a few years earlier.  In 1910, when he saw an exhibition of Islamic art, he was fascinated with the multiple patterned areas and adapted the decorative universe of the miniatures to his interiors. As a continuation of his interest in the "exotic", Matisse made extended trips to Morocco in 1912 and 1913.

At the end of 1917, Matisse moved to Nice; he would spend part of each year there for the remainder of his life.  A meticulous dandy, he wore a light tweed jacket amd a tie when he painted.  He never used a palette, but instead squeezed his colors on to plain white kitchen dishes and used them just as they came out of the tube.

During the early 1930s Matisse was engaged in designing murals for the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia.  He was also commissioned to illustrate a number of books, for which he made etchings.

Although he suffered a serious illness and underwent surgery for intestinal cancer early in 1941, he was able to continue.  His recovery left him unable to paint comfortably at an easel.  Instead of relaxing as might have been expected, he grew younger as he grew older.  He turned to colored paper and a pair of scissors, raising color to an emotional level and simplifying forms to a childish simplicity.  While he worked he saw almost no one except the handsome Russian Livia Delectorskaya, who was his chief model, housekeeper, secretary and protector.

Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection
From the internet, Electric Library and
Metropolitan Museum of Art Miniatures: Matisse
"Earthly Paradise" by Mark Stevens in Newsweek Magazine, September 19, 1977; Time magazine, April 5, 1948 and July 13, 1970
"The Most Beautiful Show in the World" by Peter Plagens in Newsweek Magazine, September 28, 1992
"Final Flowering of Henri Matisse" by John Russell in Smithsonian Magazine
M.Therese Southgate, MD in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Biography from Acquisitions of Fine Art
Biography photo for Henri Matisse
Matisse's career can be divided into several periods that changed stylistically, but his underlying aim always remained the same: to discover "the essential character of things" and to produce an art "of balance, purity, and serenity," as he himself put it. The changing studio environments seemed always to have had a significant effect on the style of his work.

In these first years of struggle Matisse set his revolutionary artistic agenda. He disregarded perspective, abolished shadows, repudiating the academic distinction between line and color. He was attempting to overturn a way of seeing evolved and accepted by the Western world for centuries by substituting a conscious subjectivity in the place of the traditional illusion of objectivity .

Matisse hit his stride in the avant-garde art world in the first years of the new decade. He explored the modern art scene through frequent visits to galleries such as Durand-Ruel and Vollard, where he was exposed to work by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh.

Matisse's first solo exhibition took place in 1904, without much success. In 16 May 1905 he arrived in the charming Catalan port of Collioure, in the south of France. He soon invited the painter André Derain (1880-1954), 11 years his junior, to join him. By 1905, Matisse was considered spearhead the Fauve movement in France, characterized by its spontaneity and roughness of execution as well as use of raw color straight from the palette to the canvas. Matisse combined pointillist color and Cézanne's way of structuring pictorial space stroke by stroke to develop Fauvism - a way less of seeing the world than of feeling it with one's eyes. When the Fauve summer drew to an end, Derain left Collioure with 30 paintings, 20 drawings and some 50 sketches, never to return, while Matisse departed some days later bringing back to Paris 15 finished paintings, 40 aquarelles, over 100 drawings. He returned Collioure in the summers of 1906, 1907, 1911 and 1914. The lure of the sun would prove always to have powers of restoration to the artist throughout his life particularly after periods of great emotional exertion.

When Fauvist works were first exhibited Salon d'Automne in Paris they created a scandal. Eyewitness accounts tell of laughter emanating from room VII where they were displayed. Gertrud Stein, one of Matisse's most important future supporters, reported that people scratched at the canvases in derision. "A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public" was the reaction by the critic Camille Mauclair. Louis Vauxcelles described the work with the historic phrase "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" (Donatello among the wild beasts), referring to a Renaissance-type sculpture that shared the room with them. His comment was printed on 17 October 1905 in Gil Blas, a daily newspaper, and passed into popular usage. Derain himself later called the Fauves' color "sticks of dynamite." The painting that was singled out for attacks was Matisse's Woman with a Hat, a portrait of Madame Matisse. This picture was bought be was bought by Gertrude and Leo Stein, a fact which had a very positive effect on Matisse who was suffering demoralization from the bad reception of his work.

Matisse continued his experiments in Collioure, visible in the painting The Open Window and the View of Collioure , also a characteristic work of Fauvism in its raw color and disregard for details. Both of these works of the landscape in the French Mediterranean present a distinct development towards the spontaneous and uninhibited style.

Other than André Derain, Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Maurice Vlaminck were also members of the Fauve movement. However, Matisse's intimate friends among artists were mostly easygoing minor painters, such as Albert Marquet. Matisse's temperamental aloneness made him prey to vertiginous depressions. He later recalled a breakdown that he underwent in Spain, in 1910: "My bed shook, and from my throat came a little high-pitched cry that I could not stop."

From the onset of is career women were from one of the cardinal motifs of the artist's production. His Joy of Life (1906) draws us into the world of hallucinatory vividness composed of nymphs set in an idyllic open fields dressed in pure color and sensual outline. Two women lounge in the sunlight while two more chat on the edge of the forest. One crouches to pick some flowers while her companion weaves a chain of them into her hair. A couple embraces each other while another group engages in a lively round-dance in the distance. In this way, Joy of Life depicts woodland nymphs engaging in a celebration of their life, their womanhood, and their sexuality.

Due to the recurrent incidence of nude women and intensely sensual interpretation many observers have assumed that as a man Matisse must have been a hedonist. On the contrary, historic examination demonstrates that in reality, he was rather a self-abnegating Northerner who lived only to work, and did so in chronic anguish, recurrent panic, and amid periodic breakdowns. While Picasso recompensed himself, as he went along, with gratifications of intellectual and erotic play Matisse did not. In an age of ideologies, Matisse dodged all ideas except perhaps one: that art is life by other means.

Matisse's uninhibited celebration of women is often believed to have initiated from Cézanne's painting Three Bathers (1882) (which he had acquired for himself along with a Van Gogh and a Gauguin). However, Matisse depicts women as nurturing, welcoming, and unlike the forbidding, massive clay-like presence of those of Paul Cézanne.

Much of Matisse's source of inspiration was poetic. Like his art, the poetry or poetic prose Matisse loved was intimate, sensuous and personal. In his later years he developed the practice of reading poetry early each day before he raised a paint brush, pencil or etching needle. His sources were French medieval poetry of Charles d'Orléans and Pierre de Ronsard, as well as the more avant-garde writings of Stéphane Mallarmé, Henri de Montherlant, Louis Aragon and others. Matisse noted that poetry was like oxygen: "just as when you leap out of bed you fill your lungs with fresh air." This kept him young at heart — like a sensual elixir of youth.

He made hundreds of drawings, original prints and illustrated books. This last art form included what Matisse called his 'flower books'. These were beautiful objects in themselves, inspired by the tradition of the Medieval manuscript. Faces, body parts, lovers, fruit and flowers reveal Matisse's exquisite arabesque lines, along with an extraordinary sense of color. For the celebrated Jazz for instance, the images are characterized by brilliant colors, swirling lines and arabesques form series of jewel-like shapes, in themes which range from the circus to female forms amongst the sea. Matisse made his images from colored stencils based on paper cut-outs.

In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and, following surgery, he started using a wheelchair. Before undergoing a risky operation in Lyon, he wrote an anxious letter to his son, Pierre, insisting, "I love my family, truly, dearly and profoundly." He left another letter, to be delivered in the event of his death, making peace with Amélie.

However, Matisse's extraordinary creativity could not be dampened. "Une seconde vie", a second life, was what he called the last fourteen years of his life. Following and operation he found renewed and unexpected energies. This new lease of life led to an extraordinary burst of expression, the culmination of half a century of work, but also to a radical renewal that made it possible for him to create what he had always struggled for: "I have needed all that time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say."

Until his death he would be cared for Lydia Delectorskaya, who had also modeled for the artist numerous times. With the aid of assistants he set about creating cut paper collages , often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés. By maneuvering scissors through prepared sheets of paper, he inaugurated a new phase of his career. The cut-out was not an abdication from painting and sculpting: he called it "painting with scissors." Matisse said, "Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated." Moreover, experimentation with cut-outs offered Matisse innumerable opportunities to fashion a new, aesthetically pleasing environment: "You see as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk... There are leaves, fruits, a bird." In 1947 he published Jazz , a limited-edition book containing prints of colorful paper cut collages, accompanied by his written thoughts. In the 1940s he also worked as a graphic artist and produced black-and-white illustrations for several books. "The walls of my bedroom are covered with cutouts," he wrote to Rouveyre in 1948. "I still don't know what I'll do with them."

In 1951, Matisse completed a monumental four-year project of designing the interior, the glass windows and the decorations of the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence. This project horrified the Catholic hierarchy but also the contemporary art world then largely influenced by Communist dogma. Picasso is often said to have recommended that Matisse decorate a brothel instead. This project was the result of the close friendship between Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie.

Press coverage wasn't always so helpful, and reporters sensationalized the relationship between the artist and the nun. Sister Jacques-Marie maintains that nothing untoward ever happened between them. But their deep fondness for one another is evident in her conversation and in read snippets of his correspondence.

Sister Jacques-Marie met Matisse in 1942, when she was a student nurse named Monique Bourgeois and Matisse, in his early 70's and recovering from intestinal cancer, advertised for a "young and pretty night nurse."

Matisse's prestige was such that he could largely financed the project himself and after it was completed, the chapel opened in 1951 in a ceremony led by the Archbishop of Nice. At first bewildered, the sisters of the convent came to love its chaste serenity and effulgent color. While he worked models and assistants were jealously guarded, cut off from outside contact and more or less confined to the premises. Picasso, accompanied by his lover, Françoise Gilot, was a frequent and welcome visitor. While still fencing with each other like old duelists, they talked art.

The Chapel had taken four years to complete and had exhausted Matisse, who by then was unable to stand for long periods and had to attach his paint brush to a long pole. But in his home, sitting on his bed or in a wheelchair, he continued to make gouache cutouts. After Rouveyre teased him for embracing religion, Matisse urged his friend to look at his cutout of a naked woman, Zulma, at the May Salon in Paris in 1950: "You will see the awakening of the converted," was his retort.

La Gerbe, multicolored leaves that resemble a spray of flowers, was completed a few months before his death, but it explodes with life. The artist who almost reinvented color in painting had by now found freedom in the simplicity of decoration. "I have the mastery of it," he told Rouveyre in a letter. "I am sure of it."

In 1952 the Musée Matisse is inaugurated at the artist's birthplace of Le Cateau-Cambrésis to which he donated 100 of his works - valued at up to $14,000,000.

Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of eighty-four, on November 3, 1954, with Marguerite and Delectorskaya at his side. Lydia Delectorskaya left immediately with the suitcase she had kept packed for fifteen years. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and a Musée Matisse was opened in the area.

(Source: Homepage: The Personal Life of Henri Matisse
"If my story were ever to be written truthfully from start to finish, it would amaze everyone.")

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art
Henri Matisse was born as the son of a grain merchant in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in northern France where he studied law and worked as a law clerk.  In 1889, at the age of 21, while recovering from severe appendicitis, his mother (an amateur painter) bought him an art set. "When I started to paint I felt transported into a kind of paradise" he would later describe it.  He abandoned his legal career, to the disappointment of his father, and decided to become an artist.  In 1891 he returned to Paris to study art at the Acadamie Julian* where he achieved proficiency in academic painting in the classic reserved style. In 1896, while painting in Brittany, he began to adopt the lighter palette of the Impressionists.

Matisse's true artistic liberation began about 1899 through the influence of Neo-Impressionist painters Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh, whose works used color to render forms and organize spatial planes.  Then, in 1903-1904, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Paul Signac and Henri Edmond Cross.  Signac and Cross were experimenting with juxtaposing small strokes or dots of pure pigment to create the strongest visual vibration of intense color.  The resulting technique was known as Pointillism*.  Matisse adopted their technique and modified it repeatedly, using broader strokes.

At the 1905 Salon d'Automne*, Matisse and colleagues Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Albert Marquet, exhibited a group of paintings they had recently completed while in the south of France.  The intensely vibrant and spontaneously painted works were hung in room seven where they were jeered by the public who deemed them exceedingly primitive, brutal and violent.  The artists were dubbed "les fauves" (the wild beasts) by art critic Louis Vauxcelles.

The Fauve* artists encouraged viewers to become responsive to the paint, usually applied directly from the tube, as a physical and emotional element of the painting. Brilliant, wide strokes of pure color reinterpreted the shape of objects, skewed the traditional foreground to background depth of field and aroused intense sensations in both the artist and the viewer.  Matisse said of his works "When I use green it is not grass, when I use blue it is not sky".

The American writer Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were early collectors and supporters of Matisse, as well as, American collector Dr. Albert Barnes who would include the artist's works in The Barnes Collection-Foundation outside Philadelphia. The Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin purchased more than forty early Matisse paintings and opened his home to the public one day a week—the only place to see European Modern Art in Moscow.  These patrons gave Matisse the financial freedom to travel seeing Germany, Morocco, Russia and Spain before WWI.  The artist signed up for military service but was rejected as too old at 44.  He spent the war years working infrequently and took comfort in music—playing the violin as an accomplished amateur.

Pablo Picasso, who first saw Matisse paintings at the Stein's apartment, would exchange paintings with the artist in 1907.  This was the start of a creative rivalry and association, which would last until Matisse's death in 1954. "No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he," stated Picasso.

After World War I, Matisse had gained a high reputation and was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1925.  He was an internationally recognized artist by 1930.  In 1940 he settled permanently in the South of France to escape the occupation of Paris living mostly in the Hotel Regina in Nice.

In 1941 Matisse had two major operations for duodenal cancer, which had a devastating effect on his health and ability to paint.  The surgeries left him unable to stand upright in front of his easel, and he was confined to either a bed or a wheelchair.  Undaunted by his immobility, he would ask his assistant to tape a piece of charcoal to a long stick and he would draw on mounted paper or directly onto the walls or ceilings.  The ultimate step in the art of Matisse was taken in his papiers découpés, abstract shapes cut from colored paper, executed in the mid-1940s. "The paper cut out" he said "allows me to draw in the color. It is a simplification for me. Instead of drawing the outline and putting the color inside it—the one modifying the other—I draw straight into the color".  These works rank as some of the most joyous works ever created by an artist at an advanced age and Matisse continued creating paper cutout works until the day of his death.

Henri Matisse died on November 3, 1954 in Nice as an innovative artist who explored color and form through his paintings, lithographs*, illustrated books, sculptures and stained glass windows. Pablo Picasso once said about the artist: "All things considered, there is only Matisse".

"What I dream of is an art of balance, purity and serenity devoid of troubling or disturbing subject matter…like a comforting influence, a mental balm—something like a good armchair in which one rests from physical fatigue".

Select Museum Collections:
Musee Matisse, Nice
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Matisse Museum, Le Cateau
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
National Gallery, London
Tate Gallery, London

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


Biography from
Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in northern France on December 31, 1869. The son of a middle-class family, he studied and began to practice law.  In 1890, however, while recovering slowly from an attack of appendicitis, he became intrigued by the practice of painting.  In 1892, having given up his law career, he went to Paris to study art formally.  He joined Gustave Moreau's studio at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he met Camoin, Manguin, Marquet and Jean Puy.

French painter and sculptor Henri Matisse was the primary figure in the group of artists known as the fauves and a major influence on twentieth-century painting. In the 1890s Matisse studied in Paris as a pupil of Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His style, deceptively simple, employs perfection of line to suggest the subject and, usually, the happy application of bright colors to enhance the image.

From the 1920s until his death, Matisse spent much time in the south of France, particularly Nice, painting local scenes with a thin, fluid application of bright color. In his old age, he was commissioned to design the decoration of the small Chapel of Saint-Marie du Rosaire at Vence (near Cannes), which he completed between 1947 and 1951. Often bedridden during his last years, he occupied himself with decoupage, creating works of brilliantly colored paper cutouts arranged casually, but with an unfailing eye for design, on a canvas surface.

He is best known for his still lifes and nudes. Matisse produced a large body of graphic work which included etchings, drypoints, woodcuts, lithographs, monotypes, and aquatints, as well as many book illustrations. In his later years, when he was an invalid, he began his highly acclaimed series of cut-out collages which he called "drawings with scissors." He was honored with the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1950, and has consistently been exhibited in the world's finest galleries and museums.

Matisse died in Nice on November 3, 1954. Unlike many artists, he was internationally popular during his lifetime, enjoying the favor of collectors, art critics, and the younger generation of artists.

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About  Henri Matisse

Born:  1869 - Nice, France
Died:   1954 - Vence, France
Known for:  fauve modernist painting; sculpture