Henri Matisse, French Painter by Almas Moosa

photo of Matisse
1869 - 1954

"There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter
than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first
to forget all the roses that were ever painted."

—Henri Matisse

Henri Émile Benoît Matisse was a French artist, leader of the Fauve group, regarded as one of the great formative influential figures in 20th-century art, a master of the use of color and form to convey emotional expression.

Henri Matisse was born at Le Cateau-Cambrésis in the North of France on December 31, 1869. His parents, Emile Matisse and Héloise Gérars, had a general store selling household goods and seed. Henri planned on a legal career, and in 1887 he studied law in Paris, in 1889 he was employed as a clerk in a solicitor’s office. It was in 1890 that he was first attracted to painting. Confined to his bed for nearly a year (1890) after an intestinal operation, he chose drawing as a pastime. Then the hobby took best of him and he decided for the painting career.

The long years of learning followed: 1891 Matisse studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau at the Académie Julian, and in 1892 transferred unofficially to Gustave Moreau’s studio at the Ecole Beaux-Arts, where he met Marquet, at the same time attending the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs.



In 1894 his daughter Marguerite was born, though Matisse did not marry the mother, Amélie Paraere, till 1898.

In 1896 he made a successful début at the Salon de la Société Nationale Des Beaux-arts and a year later displayed there his large canvas La Desserte, which showed the influence of the Impressionists. After Moreau’s death in 1898, he studied briefly with Cormon, then left the Ecole Des Beaux-arts and entered the Académie Carrière where he met Derain and Puy and attended evening classes in sculpture. In 1899 his son Jean, and then, in 1900, his son Pierre were born. Financial difficulties made him to stay for some time with his parents.

During the period of 1899-1904 Matisse participated in a group exhibition at Berthe Weil’s Gallery (1902), painted townscapes with Marquet in Paris, spent the summer of 1904 working with Signac and Cross at Saint-Tropez, and in 1905-6 painted views of Collioure.


In 1905 and 1906 Matisse, his talent now fully developed, exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon Des Indépendants together with Derain, Marquet, Vlaminck, Rouault and others and sparked off controversy. The group was ironically nicknamed "Les Fauves" (The Wild Ones). At that time Matisse displayed a tendency towards monumental, decorative compositions. If in 1900 it was only to earn some money that he took on the task of painting a frieze for the World Fair at the Grand Palais in Paris, in 1907 he worked with enthusiasm on a ceramic triptych, Nymph and Satyr, for Osthaus’s mansion in Hagen, Westphalia.   Nymph & Satyr, 1907


The Dance
The Dance (first version)
In 1908 Matisse painted the monumental canvas
The Red Room;
and in 1909-10 executed two large decorative panels,
The Dance
and The Music.
The Music
The Music

Matisse set forth the theoretical basis for his art in his Notes d'un peintre (1908) and expounded his views on painting in the art school The Atelier Matisse which was was founded by Hans Purrmann in 1908. Purrmann organized some influential Matisse exhibits in Germany that the Expressionists saw. He was born in 1880 in Speyer and studied in Karlsruhe and Munich. In 1905 he moved to Paris, and was a pupil and friend of Matisse. In 1919 he became a member of the Prussian academy of the arts.   In 1910 Matisse visited Munich to see an exhibition of Islamic art, in 1911 Seville, then Moscow on the invitation of S. Shchukin, and at the end of that year, Tangier, Morocco. From 1914 to 1918 he divided his time between Collioure, Paris and Nice. In 1918 a Matisse-and- Picasso exhibition opened at the Guillaume Gallery: it was to a certain extent indicative of the role of these two painters in contemporary art.

In 1920 Matisse designed the stage sets and costumes for S. Diaghilev’s ballet The Nightingale (to Stravinsky’s music) and in 1939 for Léonide Massine’s ballet Rouge et Noir (to the music of Shostakovich’s first Symphony). In 1931-33 he painted a large decorative composition, The Dance, for the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania; the same years he fulfilled etching illustrations for Mallarmé’s Poésies.


The Dance, 1932-33. Oil on canvas,
Barnes Foundation, Lincoln University, Merion, PA, USA.



In 1934-35 Matisse produced cartoons for carpets, based on James Joyce’s Ulysses. During the Second World War Matisse lived in the south of France – Bordeaux, Ciboure, Nice. In 1941 he underwent a serious operation. Confined to bed for most of the ensuing period, he turned his attention to book design and illustrations.

After surgery in 1941, he remained bedridden for most of the remainder of his life, but Matisse felt philosophically reborn. He changed his method of work: instead of painting, he covered sheets of paper with brilliantly hued gouache. Next, he cut out shapes with scissors, and pasted the shapes on flat paper supports. He called the results decoupages or cut-outs. These cutouts had the wholeness of gesture that most abstract painting could not reach. At an age when most artists are repeating themselves, Matisse reentered and redefined the avant-garde.

Memory of Oceania
Memory of Oceania, 1953

He designed and illustrated Henri de Montherlant’s Pasiiphaë in 1944, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, Mariana Alcoforado’s Lettres Portugaises and Reverdy’s Visages in 1946, and Ronsard’s Amours in 1948. His unique book Jazz, published in 1947, contained a facsimile reproduction of the text written in the artist’s own hand and illustrations executed in gouache after Matisse’s cutouts

It was only after the end of the war that Matisse turned anew to monumental compositions. He executed sketches for the stained-glass panel representing St. Dominique in the Church at Assy (1948), the interior decoration for the Dominican Chapel of Notre-Dame du Rosaire at Vence (1948-51), and sketches for the stained-glass panel Rose for the Uniate Church in New York (1954). In his last years he devoted a great deal of his time to cutouts and brush drawings.


The Musée Matisse was opened in 1952 at Le Cateau-Cambrésisi,
the birthplace of the artist.

Matisse died on November 3, 1954
and was buried in the cemetery at Cimiez.

Self Portrait
A self portrait of Matisse
"When I put a green, it it not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky."

Matisse was painting pictures, not things. Though he was inspired by what he saw around him, for Matisse the rule was to "interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture."