Henri Matisse (b. 1859-d.1954) was arguably one of the most influential and progressive artists of all time. His prolific career showed a wide range of artistic skill, including drawings, lithographs, woodcuts, and most notably paintings. Matisse began his artistic career late in life after a brief career in law, and did not begin to display his iconic Fauvist style in his work until the very end of the 19th century.
Matisse’s early works show an adherence to the realist style that was in vogue at the time, and the style in which he was trained and forced to work until he broke off from the traditional French art schools. His expressive style initially mixed realism with impressionism, as in The Dinner Table (1897), a work that was displayed in but poorly received by the Salon.
Shortly after, his work gathers a bolder and more defined style that slowly matured into Fauvism, which Matisse championed. His bold, audacious use of color and line, as well as his frequent use of the female form, became hallmarks of his work. One famous example of this is The Red Studio (1911). The dark maroon color fills the frame, and he creates the outlines of the chairs, tables and clock with a subtractive white outline.
The jarring color contrast that distinguishes many of his paintings was unprecedented and revolutionary. Relics of his early training are evident, however, in his clearly evident understanding and use of perspective, proportion, and the weight and substance the figures and objects in his paintings seem to possess, such as in Odalisque with Magnolias (1924) or The Joy of Life (1905).
Matisse also drew prolifically; many of his drawings are studies for paintings, but some are certainly stand-alone masterpieces of strong line and shape. For example, Magnolia (c. 1900), executed in pen and ink on paper, is a lovely, soft, naturalistic work that echoes the female figures and natural subjects in his paintings. His Still Life on a Table (1943) is similarly reminiscent of the bold strokes and shapes he achieves with oil paint, yet with a thinner, more subdued tone. Face (Claude) (1946) displays how Matisse, unafraid of the conventions towards realism in his day, used simplistic representations of his subjects to achieve a powerful impact on the viewer.
Matisse’s impact on the art world is indelible, and his life and career, as well as his incredible range of artistic works, will surely serve to inspire many generations of artists to come.
1. 1. Gowing, Lawrence. Henri Matisse: 64 Paintings. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Doubleday and Co. New York. © 1966.
2. 2. “Henri Matisse.” http://www.henri-matisse.net/index.html. © Succession H. Matisse 2011 for all works by the artist. © 2011. The Dinner Table, The Red Studio, Odalisque with Magnolias, Still Life on a Table, Face (Claude), The Joy of Life.