Matisse: Biography, Facts & Artwork

Instructor: Amber Chiozza

Amber has taught Art History, Humanities, and Art Appreciation, and has a master's degree in Book Arts and Printmaking.

Learn about the painter Henri Matisse, an artist known for his use of color and his contribution to the Fauvism movement. Learn about his life and works, and test your knowledge with the supplemental quiz.

Henri Matisse and Visualizing Emotion

When attempting to express oneself, a person may often approach this task at a superficial level. We express ourselves through the vehicle we choose, the clothing we wear, and the profession to which we dedicate our time and energy. However, how would one express pure emotion? This was the endeavor of the artist Henri Matisse. He used pure, bold color and flat forms not to illustrate the world around him, but to express his joy of life. Matisse stated as much when he said, 'What I am after, above all, is expression.'

Life of Henri Matisse

Born to a middle class family in northern France, Matisse endured an uneventful childhood. At the age of 18, he briefly moved to Paris to study law, and though he was successful, he did not enjoy it. A few years later, he became ill. Unable to leave his home, he spent his time drawing and discovered his affinity for painting.

As a result, he began to take art lessons from renowned artists at the Académie Julian in Paris, copying and studying the sculptures and paintings of old masters, particularly those from the Renaissance. However, this was a style from which he would soon break away. After meeting other less conventional artists who did not follow this academic style, Matisse's work began to transform and reflect more on his power of expression than his ability to recreate the world around him. One of these artists was Gustave Moreau, an artist that incorporated dream-like subject matter with intense color. Matisse was highly inspired by this, as well as the work of Paul Gauguin, another artist famous for his use of wild color. Upon seeing these artists' work, Matisse's style took on rough, exuberant brushstrokes and intense color that had no relation to nature. He first displayed these works in 1905 at a gallery called Salon d'Automne, and the work was met with mixed reviews. One art critic described Matisse and his friends as 'fauves,' or 'wild beasts,' and this would coin the title for their artistic movement, Fauvism.

Matisse and Fauvism

Henri Matisse's work exudes bright, pure color and expressive form and composition. This was the epitome of the Fauvist style, the art movement led by Matisse which was defined by bright colors striving for strong emotional reactions. When creating his works, he simplifies figures, combining this with brushwork that is energetic and unblended, leaving each brushstroke visible. There is no shading to imply any three-dimensionality. Instead, he uses flat color and line to capture pure mood and emotion. Examine these two works by Henri Matisse to see how they fall into Fauvism.

Henri Matisse Femme au Chappeau 1905

Matisse's Femme au Chappeau (Woman with a Hat), painted when he was 36, caused an uproar when it was first displayed. The painting was a portrait of his wife, and upon first glance, he used typical composition to create the piece. Her position, clothing, and expression were all typical of a portrait of this time, but what caused the controversy was the manner in which he painted it. This was a prime example of what to expect from Matisse: conventional subject matter executed in an unconventional way. He rejected natural color, instead using pure swatches of blues, greens and purples to paint her figure and background. His main objective for this piece was to elicit an emotional response, not paint a likeness of his wife.

Henri Matisse Le Bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life)
Matisse - Joy of Life

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