Henri Matisse was born as the son of a grain merchant in the Picardy region of northern France. He studied law and worked as a law clerk. When Henri Matisse was 21 years old he became seriously ill. During the phase of convalescence Matisse started painting and discovered his love for art, which should become his life-long passion.
Blue Period 52 (Période Bleue)
Two years later, in 1892, he gave up his career as a lawyer. He attended art classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and dabbled in different styles. He then was influenced by the impressionist and post-impressionist painters Pisarro, Cezanne, van Gogh, Gauguin and Paul Signac and by the paintings of W. Turner.
Around the year 1905 he finally found his own style characterized by daring, bright colors executed in a broad brush stroke.
The Master of Colors
After an exhibition of their works in 1905 at the Salon d’Automne the group around Matisse and Andre Derain was ironically and pejoratively dubbed Les Fauves, which literally means The Wild Beasts.
From 1905 to 1906 Matisse painted one of his best paintings, The Joy of Life. It is considered to be one of the most important works of Twenty Century art and was bought by the famous art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes. This painting and the whole Barnes collection was veiled from the public for 72 years. Finally the collection of the Barnes Foundation was opened to the art world again in 1993 and can be visited outside Philadelphia.
The American writer Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were early collectors and supporters of Matisse paintings. Another admirer became Pablo Picasso with whom he exchanged paintings in 1907.
After World War I, Matisse had gained a high reputation and was an internationally recognized artist. In 1917 he left Paris and settled in Nice in the South of France where he remained until the end of his life. In 1925 he received the French Legion of Honor award.
The Late Years
In 1941 Matisse had an abdominal cancer surgery which had a devastating effect on his health and ability to paint. He was unable to stand upright in front of an easel. The artist therefore turned to another form of artistic expression. He created paper cut-outs in the same vivid, strong colors and daring compositions known from his paintings. He had an assistant and could work lying in bed or sitting comfortably in an arm-chair.
Henri Matisse died on November 3, 1954 in Nice as an internationally well known and highly reputable artist. He had continued creating paper cutout works until the day of his death. Pablo Picasso once said about the artist: “All things considered, there is only Matisse”.
“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have the light joyousness of springtime, which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me.”
“In modern art, it is undoubtedly to Cezanne that I owe the most.”
“A colorist makes his presence known even in a single charcoal drawing.”
“The essential thing is to spring forth, to express the bolt of lightning one senses upon contact with a thing. The function of the artist is not to translate an observation but to express the shock of the object on his nature; the shock, with the original reaction.”