Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was born December 31, 1869. He grew up in Bohain-en-Vernandois and moved to Paris at age 17 to go to law school.
Two years of law school later, Matisse started going to drawing classes at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts (Paris School of Fine Arts) each day before going to work as a law clerk.
He then started painting under Adolphe William Boughereau, and then soon switched to painting under Gustave Moreau, an instructor at the famous school of fine arts.
In 1896, when Matisse was 26, the Salon de Paris exhibited four of his paintings.
In 1898, he married Amelie Parayre, a milliner. They had two children, Jean and Pierre.
In 1904, Matisse painted alongside Paul Signac at St. Tropez. Here, he started painting one of his masterpieces “Luxe, Calme et Volupte” (Luxury, Serenity and Pleasure) and finished it when he got back to Paris. The influence of pointillism is visible in this painting.
Henri Matisse, Andre Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck became fascinated with bright colours and how they can be used to express feelings in paintings. These artists presented at the annual exhibition of new art, the Salon d’Autumne, in 1905. They presented paintings with broad thick strokes and with blobs of unmixed, bright colours and unrealistic perspective.
These paintings shocked the Paris art world and one critic, Louis Vauxcelles, described the scene of the renaissance-style sculpture that was in the middle of the exhibition room as looking like a beautiful statue surrounded by “fauves” (wild beasts).
The artists themselves got a real kick out of this and started calling themselves ‘the Fauves’. And so fauvism became a popular movement for young artists until about 1908. Matisse was considered the leader of the Fauves.
Picasso, presumably coveting the sensation caused by the fauvism exhibit and Matisse’s resultant position as ‘leader of the avant-garde’, he decided to rethink his approach to painting....and shortly thereafter came cubism.
The painting called “The Joy of Life”, by Matisse, is a great example of fauvism painting.
Matisse took a trip to Morocco in 1912 which inspired a vibrancy of colours that came out in his work thereafter.
Matisse left Paris for Nice in 1917 and from then onward, spent most of his winters on the French Riviera. In 1943, he moved to Venice, Italy.
Over his lifetime, Matisse did painting, sculpture, book illustrations, designs for theatres and a chapel. Near the end of his career, he also started doing “paper cut-outs”. He would cut out shapes of brightly coloured paper and post them on a background sheet.
Henri Matisse died of a heart attack in his apartment in Nice, November 3, 1954, at the age of 84.
To see Matisse’s work while you are in Paris, go to the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay.