artist canvas
Portrait of Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

31.12.1869 Le Cateau-Cambresis - 03.11.1954 Cimiez

Art history: Fauvism

Short information:

Henri Matisse was a French artist, noted for his use of color and his fluid, brilliant and original draftsmanship. As a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but principally as a painter, Matisse is one of the best-known artists of the twentieth century.

Biography of Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse was born at Le Cateau-Cambr?sis in the North of France on December 31, 1869. His parents, Emile Matisse and H?loise G?rars, had a general store selling household goods and seed. Henri planned on a legal career, and in 1887/88 studied law in Paris, in 1889 he was employed as a clerk in a solicitor’s office. It was in 1890 that he was first attracted to painting. Confined to his bed for nearly a year (1890) after an intestinal operation, he chose drawing as a pastime. Then the hobby took best of him and he decided for the painting career.

The long years of learning followed: in 1891 Matisse studied under Bouguereau at the Acad?mie Julian, and in 1892 transferred unofficially to Gustave Moreau’s studio at the Ecole Beaux-Arts, where he met Marquet, at the same time attending the Ecole Nationale des Arts D?coratifs. In 1894 his daughter Marguerite was born, though Matisse did not marry the mother, Am?lie Paraere, till 1898.

In 1896 he made a successful d?but at the Salon de la Soci?t? Nationale des Beaux-Arts and a year later displayed there his large canvas La Desserte, which showed the influence of the Impressionists. After Moreau’s death in 1898, he studied briefly with Cormon, then left the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and entered the Acad?mie Carri?re where he met Derain and Puy and attended evening classes in sculpture. In 1899 his son Jean, and then, in 1900, his son Pierre were born. Financial difficulties made him to stay for some time with his parents.

During the period of 1899-1904 Matisse participated in a group exhibition at Berthe Weil’s Gallery (1902), painted townscapes with Marquet in Paris, spent the summer of 1904 working with Signac and Cross at Saint-Tropez, and in 1905-6 painted views of Collioure.

In 1905 and 1906 Matisse, his talent now fully developed, exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Ind?pendants together with Derain, Marquet, Vlaminck, Roauault and others and sparked off controversy. The group was ironically nicknamed “Les Fauves” (The Wild ones). At that time Matisse displayed a tendency towards monumental, decorative compositions. If in 1900 it was only to earn some money that he took on the task of painting a frieze for the World Fair at the Grand Palais in Paris, in 1907 he worked with enthusiasm on a ceramic triptych, Nymph and Satyr, for Osthaus’s mansion in Hagen, Westphalia. In 1908 Matisse painted the monumental canvas The Red Room; and in 1909-10 executed two large decorative panels, The Dance and The Music on commissions from the Moscow businessman S. Shchukin. Sculpture, too, began to occupy a significant place in Matisse’s artistic endeavor and was exhibited for the first time in 1912, in New York. At this time, Matisse set forth the theoretical basis for his art in his Notes d’un peintre (1908) and expounded his views on painting in the art school (the Atelier Matisse), which he had organized. But soon teaching began to weigh heavily on the artist, and he withdrew more and more frequently to Issy-des-Moulineaux.

In 1910 Matisse visited Munich to see an exhibition of Islamic art, in 1911 Seville, then Moscow on the invitation of S. Shchukin, and at the end of that year, Tangier, Morocco. From 1914 to 1918 he divided his time between Collioure, Paris and Nice. In 1918 a Matisse-and-Picasso exhibition opened at the Guillaume Gallery: it was to a certain extent indicative of the role of these two painters in contemporary art.

In 1920 Matisse designed the stage sets and costumes for S. Diaghilev’s ballet The Nightingale (to Stravinsky’s music) and in 1939 for L?onide Massine’s ballet Rouge et Noir (to the music of Shostakovich’s first Symphony). In 1931-33 he painted a large decorative composition, The Dance, for the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania; the same years he fulfilled etching illustrations for Mallarm?’s Po?sies. In 1934-35 Matisse produced cartoons for carpets, based on James Joyce’s Ulysses.

During the Second World War Matisse lived in the south of France – Bordeaux, Ciboure, Nice. In 1941 he underwent a serious operation. Confined to bed for most of the ensuing period, he turned his attention to book design and illustrations. He designed and illustrated Henri de Montherlant’s Pasiipha? in 1944, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Mariana Alcoforado’s Lettres Portugaises and Reverdy’s Visages in 1946, and Ronsard’s Amours in 1948. His unique book Jazz, published in 1947, contained a facsimile reproduction of the text written in the artist’s own hand and illustrations executed in gouache after Matisse’s cut-outs.

It was only after the end of the war that Matisse turned anew to monumental compositions. He executed sketches for the stained-glass panel representing St. Dominique in the church at Assy (1948), the interior decoration for the Dominican chapel of Notre-Dame du Rosaire at Vence (1948-51), and sketches for the stained-glass panel Rose for the Uniate Church in New York (1954). In his last years he devoted a great deal of his time to cut-outs and brush drawings.

The Mus?e Matisse was opened in 1952 at Le Cateau-Cambr?sisi, the birthplace of the artist. Matisse died on November 3, 1954 and was buried in the cemetery at Cimiez.

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