Matisse, Henri

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Henri Matisse

Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, 1869

Nice, 1954


After studying law in Paris and practicing as a lawyer, Matisse’s interest in painting led him to study art at the Académie Julian. In 1893 he attended classes at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, where he trained with Gustave Moreau, in whose workshop he began to work in 1895. He then spent time in Carrière’s workshop where he met André Derain and, through him, Maurice de Vlaminck. Around this time, his painting, which had already evinced an early impressionist influence, began to echo the post-impressionism of artists such as Signac, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, which translated into strong colors freed from any descriptive function. In 1905, his portrait of a woman with a hat (Mme. Matisse) was exhibited at the Autumn Salon along with works by Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet and Rouault. This particular exhibition aroused some controversy: critic Louis Vauxcelles called it a “cage aux fauves” (cage of wild beasts), thus coining the name of a new movement, Fauvism. 

The writer Gertrude Stein and her brother Léo were the first collectors of Matisse’s work when they acquired the painting he had exhibited at the Autumn Salon. It would not be long before Matisse was recognized both in France and also abroad. In 1908, the Alfred Stieglitz Gallery in New York, organized his first exhibition in the United States. That same year, the painter recorded his artistic beliefs in Notes d’un peintre. In 1910, the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery in Paris held the first retrospective of his work. 

Despite having applied to sign up, Matisse was not mobilized for the Great War, which he spent in Collioure, where he made friends with Juan Gris. After the war, his style calmed down, becoming more sensual and ornamental. At the same time, his international success and fame continued to grow; in 1927, for example, he was awarded the Pittsburg Carnegie Prize and in addition to receiving numerous commissions, several retrospectives of his work were organized in the 1930s. 

In 1941, a surgical intervention forced him to rest, but this did not prevent him from working; in fact, it motivated the artist to add one more technique to those he had already mastered. Since he was unable to stand, he began working with brightly-colored paper cutouts that he composed either sitting or lying down with the help of his assistant. In 1944, his wife was arrested and his daughter deported for taking part in the resistance to the German occupation, and Matisse could only take refuge in his work. In 1950 he won a prize at the Venice Biennale and exhibitions of his work continued apace. In 1952 the Matisse Museum was opened in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. 

Noemi de Haro