Fine Artists: Henri Matisse French Painter 1869-1954

Henri Matisse fauve painting "The Green Stripe" or "Madame Matisse" a portrait done in fauve style of Henri Matisse's wifeHenri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of color and his fluid, brilliant and original artworks as draftsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but principally as a painter, Matisse is one of the best-known artists of the 20th century. Henri Matisse is regarded as one of the great formative figures in 20th-century art, a master of the use of color and form to convey emotional expression. Henri Matisse was also the most outstanding personality of the first revolution in twentieth century art, Fauvism a style of art that uses color and sometimes distorted forms to send its message.

Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869, in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. After the war of 1870–71 his family moved to Bohain-en-Vermandois, France. Matisse's father was a corn merchant, his mother an amateur painter. In 1887 Henri Matisse went to Paris to study law, working as a court administrator in Le Cateau-Cambrésis after gaining his qualification. Henri Matisse first started to paint in 1889, when his mother had brought him art supplies during a period of convalescence following an attack of appendicitis. Henri Matisse discovered "a kind of paradise" as he later described it, and decided to become an artist, deeply disappointing his father.

About 1898, under the influence of Impressionism, the colors Matisse used became lighter. Although impressionist in character, these early works of Matisse already showed a noticeable emphasis on color and simplified forms. Matisse married in 1898 and visited London, England, in the same year to study. On his return to Paris Henri Matisse attended classes at the Académie Carrière, where he met André Derain. Matisse's true artistic liberation, in terms of the use of color to render forms and organize spatial planes, came about first through the influence of the French painters Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne and the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, whose work he studied closely beginning about 1899.

Henri Matisse "Blue Nude" paintingThen, in 1903 and 1904, Matisse encountered the pointillist painting of Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac. Cross and Signac were experimenting with juxtaposing small strokes, often dots or "points" of pure pigment to create the strongest visual vibration of intense color. Matisse adopted their technique and modified it repeatedly, using broader strokes. By 1905 Henri Matisse had produced some of the boldest color images ever created, including a striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse) (shown above). The composition of the work consists of a portrait of Madame Matisse in the foreground and a background divided into several distinct areas of color. The division in the background is apparent in the juxtaposition of the mauve, orange and blue green, with the foreground divided primarily by the green strip itself, which runs down the middle of Madam Matisse’s face and separates the painting along a vertical axis. The background and foreground, however, are rendered almost completely flat, so that they seem to become part of one another, and Madame Matisse seems to become somewhat of a portrait within a portrait.

Henri Matisse exhibited "Green Stripe" and similar paintings along with works by his artist companions, including André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck. Together, the group was dubbed les fauves (literally, "the wild beasts") because of the extremes of emotionalism in which they seemed to have indulged, their use of vivid colors, and their distortion of shapes. Matisse's Fauve period extended from 1905 to 1908, during which time he completed a brilliant series of masterpieces. At the 1905 Salon d'Automne these paintings, known as the Fauves, made their first public appearance. In 1906 Matisse's Joie de vivre was exhibited at the Indépendants; the painting gained him the title of the "King of the Fauves." Matisse made his first trip to North Africa in 1906.

Henri Matisse's "Blue Nude", or "Souvenir de Biskra" (shown here) is a memento of the journey. In this painting Henri Matisse experimented with contrapposto (an S-curve pose), and he used the same form in the sculpture "Reclining Nude I" . Henri Matisse had established a studio in the former Convent des Oiseaux in 1905, which became a meeting place for foreign artists. Henri Matisse developed into the leader of an international art school with mainly German and Scandinavian pupils who spread his ideas. His "Notes of a Painter," published in La Grande revue in 1908, became the artistic handbook of a whole generation. Matisse was a pleasant man who looked more like a shy government official than an artist. Henri Matisse never accepted any fees for his teaching so that he was not obligated to staying in one place. Henri Matisse did not want commitments to interfere with his creative activity. While he was regarded as a leader of radicalism in the arts, Matisse was beginning to gain the approval of a number of influential critics and collectors, including the American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein and her family. Among the many important commissions he received was that of a Russian collector who requested mural panels illustrating dance and music.

"Odalisque with Raised Arms" Henri Matisse painting from his Odalisque seriesBy 1919 Matisse had become an internationally known master. His style at that time was characterized by the use of pure colors and their complex interplay, the two-dimensionality of the picture surface enriched by decorative patterns taken from wallpapers, Oriental carpets, and fabrics. Henri Matisse treated human figures in the same manner as the decorative elements. The goal of Matisse's art was the portrayal of the joyful living in contrast to the stresses of our technological age. Between 1920 and 1925 Henri Matisse completed a series of odalisques (female slaves), such as the "Odalisque with Raised Arms"(shown here). This period has been called an oasis of lightness. In the 1950‘s, Matisse began creating paintings using paint and paper cut outs.

Henri Matisse produced many paintings and designs using this technique. In his last years, as Henri Matisse aged and fell ill, he continued to paint, this time on the walls of his room, using a piece of charcoal attached to the end of a bamboo pole. He painted until his death in 1954. Matisse had strong feelings about only one thing, the act of painting. This to him was an experience so profoundly joyous that he wanted to transmit it to the beholder in all its freshness and immediacy. The purpose of his pictures, he always asserted, was to give pleasure. For Matisse, painting was the rhythmic arrangement of line and color on a flat plane. Henri Matisse had created the technique of striking contrasts, unmixed hues, flat planes of color and expressive brush strokes . Light was expressed, not in the method of the Impressionists, but with a harmony of intensely covered surfaces.
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Henri Matisse
French Impressionist Artist
painted "Odalisque with Raised Arms"  "Blue Nude"  "The Green Stripe"