Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869 at Le Cateau-Cambrésis in the countryside of Nord, France. His father was a corn salesman, and his mother was an amateur painter. Matisse studied law from 1887 to 1891, but then, to his father’s displeasure, he decided to go to Paris to become a painter. He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris under Adolphe William Bouguereau. From 1892 to 1897, he studied at the École de Beaux Arts under Gustave Moreau, who was a very controversial and liberal professor (Cassou vi). While Matisse was a student, he often went to the Louvre and made copies of master paintings there. He met the young Picasso in 1904, and the two became close friends and rivals. Matisse was a major leader of the Fauvist movement mainly from 1905 to 1907, though the style itself lasted beyond that time period (“Fauvism”). Matisse taught young art students at the Académie Matisse from 1907 to 1911. In 1917, Matisse moved to Cimiez, and his approach to art softened considerably during this time period. Matisse died on November 3, 1954.
Matisse was hugely experimental in his artwork, and he changed styles a number of times in his life. His style as a student was pretty impressionistic, then he went wild with Fauvist style. Then he went with a softer, more neoclassical approach, especially after moving away from Paris. He did a few commissioned works and went back to modernist style with his papiers découpés, abstract cutouts in colored paper. In 1908, Matisse wrote, “What I am after, above all, is expression” (The Minneapolis Institute of Arts 3).
Matisse used a number of artistic techniques in his paintings and drawings. Two painting techniques he used were creating an impasto and scraping (D’Alessandro and Elderfield 33). When creating an impasto, a brush or palette knife is used to apply a really thick layer of paint so that it “stands in relief” from the rest of the surface of the painting(33). Matisse often scraped paint, both wet and dry, to change certain elements or emphasize others. D’Alessandro and Elderfield comment that when Matisse scraped dry paint, it seemed almost as though he was not satisfied with how his work looked. With drawings, Matisse showed preferences in tools. He used pencil or graphite mostly for study drawings and softer mediums like charcoal or crayon for his most “ambitious” drawings (35).
Matisse said, “Drawing is of the Spirit and color of the Senses” (The Minneapolis Institute of Arts 8). He used drawing as a “nourishment” and a way to “strengthen [his] knowledge” (8). This drawing process ended when he found “a drawing that empties me entirely of what I feel” (8). Drawing was an emotional process for Matisse, and he felt that line drawing was the most expressive because it was the purest, with the artist only in control (8).
Matisse is considered one of the major influences in the Modernist movement. There were certainly many things leading up to that. I want to talk a minute about Matisse’s involvement in the short-lived movement called Fauvism. The style really got my attention, and I was fascinated by the controversial response to the associated work at the time. Artists associated with the movement were called les Fauves, meaning “the wild beasts” in French. The name stuck after a critic used the term in a description of their work. Les Fauves included Gustave Moreau, Albert Marquet, Georges Rouault, Charles Camoin, Henri Manguin, Chatou, Vlaminck, and Andre Dérain (Cassou ii). The group stayed together from about 1905-1907, generally led by Matisse and Dérain (“Fauvism”). The really notable characteristic of Fauvist painting was the intensity of the use of color. Each color was applied to saturation point without regard to what the realistic color of the subject would be. Lines and brush strokes were really bold. Cassou, curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne, comments, “To give to sensations of colour their most powerful and intense expression, to reorganize on canvas the autonomous play of forms and color, to dethrone the hitherto established hierarchies which exist amongst objects, to demolish once more and then once again, prejudices about beauty and ugliness, these are the tasks which this young artist set himself” (v-vi).
I picked Matisse originally because I came across an article about him in the Spring 2010 edition of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art Journal. I remembered that my final group project in ARTSVIS 54 had a Matisse painting, specifically “The Green Line (Portrait of Madame Matisse),” but I did not really know anything about Matisse. I started researching more of his drawings and found them really interesting, especially because his style is so different from mine. Still, I thought his drawings of the female nude were really beautiful.
Cassou, Jean. Paintings and Drawings of Matisse. New York: Tudor Publishing, 1948. Print.
D’Alessandro, Stephanie and John Elderfield. Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010.
"Fauvism." The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Ed. Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 2004. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
Matisse, Henri. The Green Line. 1905. Oil on canvas. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Statens Museum for Kunst. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minnesota Celebrates Matisse. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts,1993. Print.
"The Green Line (Portrait of Mme Matisse)"
1905 Oil on Canvas
This was the painting we used for our final project in 54. The use of color really got my attention, and the work in general is representative of the Fauvist movement.
(Scanned from Minnesota Celebrates Matisse)
"Reclining Nude" - about 1920 Pencil on paper
I thought the hatching technique Matisse used to describe shapes and contours was really effective here. I might apply it to my own work sometime.
"Woman with Folded Hands"
about 1919 Pen and ink on paper
The line work is really crisp here, which is something that I could apply in my drawing as well.
(Scanned from Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917)
Left: "Composition No. II"
March 11, 1909 Watercolor
Below: Drawing on verso of letter
March 1909 Ink on paper
I included this watercolor because I liked how we could see the study drawing and modifications Matisse made in the final piece. He also added another leaning figure on the right.
(Scanned from Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917)
Left top: "Dance (II)"
summer-fall 1910 Oil on canvas
Left bottom: "Music"
winter-fall 1910 Oil on canvas
Below: "Henri Matisse - Before" and "Henri Matisse - After"
Oct. 8, 1910 published in La vie parisienne 48,51
I also included these pieces because we could see both the study drawing and the final product.