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Artists Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse Photo

Henri Matisse

French Painter, Draftsman, and Collagist

Movements and Styles: Fauvism, Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism

Born: December 31, 1869 - Le Cateau-Cambresis, Picardy, France

Died: November 3, 1954 - Nice, France

Henri Matisse Timeline


"Exactitude is not truth."
Henri Matisse
"Do you find perfect correspondence between the nature of the drawing and the nature of the painting? In my opinion, they seem totally different from each other, absolutely contradictory. One, the drawing, depends on linear or sculptural plasticity, and the other, the painting, depends on colored plasticity."
Henri Matisse
"What interests me most is neither still life or landscape, but the human figure. It is that which best permits me to express my so-to-speak religious awe towards life."
Henri Matisse
"That paper cut-out, the kind of volute acanthus that you see on the wall up there, is a stylized snail. First of all, I drew the snail from nature, holding it between two fingers; drew and drew. I became aware of an unfolding. I formed in my mind a purified sign for a shell. Then I took the scissors."
Henri Matisse
"An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language."
Henri Matisse
"I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labors it has cost me."
Henri Matisse

"What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue."

Henri Matisse Signature


Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the 20th century and as a rival to Pablo Picasso in the importance of his innovations. He emerged as a Post-Impressionist, and first achieved prominence as the leader of the French movement Fauvism. Although interested in Cubism, he rejected it, and instead sought to use color as the foundation for expressive, decorative, and often monumental paintings. As he once controversially wrote, he sought to create an art that would be "a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair." Still life and the nude remained favorite subjects throughout his career; North Africa was also an important inspiration, and, towards the end of his life, he made an important contribution to collage with a series of works using cut-out shapes of color. He is also highly regarded as a sculptor.

Key Ideas

Matisse used pure colors and the white of exposed canvas to create a light-filled atmosphere in his Fauve paintings. Rather than using modeling or shading to lend volume and structure to his pictures, Matisse used contrasting areas of pure, unmodulated color. These ideas continued to be important to him throughout his career.
His art was important in endorsing the value of decoration in modern art. However, although he is popularly regarded as a painter devoted to pleasure and contentment, his use of color and pattern is often deliberately disorientating and unsettling.
Matisse was heavily influenced by art from other cultures. Having seen several exhibitions of Asian art, and having traveled to North Africa, he incorporated some of the decorative qualities of Islamic art, the angularity of African sculpture, and the flatness of Japanese prints into his own style.
Matisse once declared that he wanted his art to be one "of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter," and this aspiration was an important influence on some, such as Clement Greenberg, who looked to art to provide shelter from the disorientation of the modern world.
The human figure was central to Matisse's work both in sculpture and painting. Its importance for his Fauvist work reflects his feeling that the subject had been neglected in Impressionism, and it continued to be important to him. At times he fragmented the figure harshly, at other times he treated it almost as a curvilinear, decorative element. Some of his work reflects the mood and personality of his models, but more often he used them merely as vehicles for his own feelings, reducing them to ciphers in his monumental designs.


Henri Matisse Photo


Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse was born to middle-class parents Emile-Hippolyte-Henri Matisse, a grain and hardware merchant, and Anna Heloise Gerard. He grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois and went to school at the College de Saint Quentin, before moving to Paris to study law. In 1889, he returned to Saint-Quentin as a law clerk, though he found the job tedious and complained of anxiety. Later that year he contracted appendicitis and spent several months at home recovering. During that time, at the age of 20, he discovered the welcome isolation and freedom of painting.

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Henri Matisse Biography Continues

Important Art by Henri Matisse

The below artworks are the most important by Henri Matisse - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Luxe, Calme, et Volupte (1904-05)
Artwork Images

Luxe, Calme, et Volupte (1904-05)

Artwork description & Analysis: The title of this painting is taken from the refrain of Charles Baudelaire's poem, Invitation to a Voyage (1857), in which a man invites his lover to travel with him to paradise. The landscape is likely based on the view from Paul Signac's house in Saint-Tropez, where Matisse was vacationing. Most of the women are nude (in the manner of a traditional classical idyll), but one woman - thought to represent the painter's wife - wears contemporary dress. This is Matisse's only major painting in the Neo-Impressionist mode, and its technique was inspired by the Pointillism of Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. He differs from the approach of those painters, however, in the way in which he outlines figures to give them emphasis.

Oil on canvas - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris

The Woman with a Hat (1905)
Artwork Images

The Woman with a Hat (1905)

Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse attacked conventional portraiture with this image of his wife. Amelie's pose and dress are typical for the day, but Matisse roughly applied brilliant color across her face, hat, dress, and even the background. This shocked his contemporaries when he sent the picture to the 1905 Salon d'Automne. Leo Stein called it, "the nastiest smear of paint I had ever seen," yet he and Gertrude bought it for the importance they knew it would have to modern painting.

Oil on canvas - The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Joy of Life (Le Bonheur de Vivre) (1905-06)
Artwork Images

Joy of Life (Le Bonheur de Vivre) (1905-06)

Artwork description & Analysis: During his Fauve years Matisse often painted landscapes in the south of France during the summer and worked up ideas developed there into larger compositions upon his return to Paris. Joy of Live, the second of his important imaginary compositions, is typical of these. He used a landscape he had painted in Collioure to provide the setting for the idyll, but it is also influenced by ideas drawn from Watteau, Poussin, Japanese woodcuts, Persian miniatures, and 19th-century Orientalist images of harems. The scene is made up of independent motifs arranged to form a complete composition. The massive painting and its shocking colors received mixed reviews at the Salon des Indépendants. Critics noted its new style -- broad fields of color and linear figures, a clear rejection of Paul Signac's celebrated Pointillism.

Oil on canvas - The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania

More Henri Matisse Artwork and Analysis:

Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra) (1907) The Back I (1908-09) The Moroccans (1915-16) Bathers by a River (1917) The Dance II (1932) Blue Nude II (1952)

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Henri Matisse
Interactive chart with Henri Matisse's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Personal Contacts

Henri BergsonHenri Bergson
Albert MarquetAlbert Marquet
Leo SteinLeo Stein



Influences on Artist
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Years Worked: 1889 - 1954
Influenced by Artist


Raoul DufyRaoul Dufy
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Arthur DoveArthur Dove
Robert MotherwellRobert Motherwell
Richard DiebenkornRichard Diebenkorn

Personal Contacts

Sergei ShchukinSergei Shchukin
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.Alfred H. Barr, Jr.


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism

Useful Resources on Henri Matisse





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


The Unknown Matisse Recomended resource

By Hilary Spurling

Matisse the Master: A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954

By Hilary Spurling

Matisse And Picasso: The Story Of Their Rivalry And Friendship

By Jack Flam

More Interesting Books about Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse and the Fauves

Henri Matisse's Bathers by the River Recomended resource

For Exhibition: "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917"
With audio by John Elderfield
July 9, 2010

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953

Tate Modern: Modern Paint Podcast

articles and reviews

Matisse and the Nun

By Rebecca Spence
December 1, 2005

Meet the Meticulous Mob of "Wild Beast" Matisse

By Hilton Kramer
The New York Observer
November 19, 2001

Kenneth Noland on Matisse's The Snail (1953)

Interview by Martin Gayford
The Telegraph
October 13, 2001

Matisse at the Modern Recomended resource

Frieze Magazine
January - February 1993

More Interesting Resources about Henri Matisse
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Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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