Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Henri Matisse was born in France in 1869. Best known for his paintings, Matisse was also a prolific and wildly talented sculptor, draughtsman and printmaker. Most historians classify Matisse as one of the seminal players in the modern artistic development of the twentieth century. Matisse’s intended career was law. But in 1890, while recovering from an illness, he took up painting as a diversion, and against his parents’ wishes, continued along this path. He traveled to Paris to pursue his art studies in the autumn of 1891, at the age of twenty-two.
The inventive genius of Matisse cannot be confined within the limits of any one school of art. He studied the old masters; he explored Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and he ventured into various modes of expressive abstraction. Matisse was also leader of the first avant-garde movement of the twentieth century, the Fauves (The Wild Beasts). This group was known as such because of the extreme emotion the paintings conveyed and the vivid use of color.
In addition to his mastery of color, Matisse also studied classical techniques that were translated into his masterful renditions of the human figure in his graphic work, which are amongst the most sought after prints in the history of Western Art. Fully rendered images of reclining women (often dancers or performers) seem a departure from the artist’s bold colors and expressive painting style. Matisse also created several masterful linear, figurative images in his drypoint etchings. He often portrayed outlines or suggestions of highly expressive human bodies or faces.
Much of Matisse’s later years were spent in the south of France, where he continued to work and eventually developed his gouache decoupages (or paper cutouts). Unlike many artists, he was internationally popular during his lifetime, enjoying the favor of collectors, art critics, and the younger generation of artists. When he died, in 1954 at the age of eighty-five, he had created a body of work that has established him as one of the two foremost artists of the modern period, the other being Picasso. His works are held in every important museum of modern art in the world, including, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hermitage Museum, Guggenheim Museum, The Norton Simon Museum, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.