French painter, sculptor and illustrator. Matisse was one of the most original creative forces in early 20th-century art. He was a leading figure in fauvism and later developed a style characterized by strong, sinuous lines, surface pattern, and brilliant colour. The Dance (1910; The Hermitage, St Petersburg) is characteristic. Matisse regarded composition as simply the arrangement of elements to express feeling. He was not a believer in heavy theory, but felt that art should be ‘restful’, natural, joyous, colourful, and above all expressive. Later works include pure abstracts, as in his collages of coloured paper shapes (gouaches découpées).
Influenced by Impressionism and then post-Impressionism, by 1905 he had developed his fauvist style of strong, expressive colours, which he maintained throughout his career. Largely unaffected by cubism and other strident forms of modern art, he concentrated on the decorative effects of colour, line and form, a vivid example being The Red Room (1908–09; The Hermitage, St Petersburg).
As early as 1899 he made sculptures and in later years resumed the practice of free and unconventional modelling, his best-known works being the series in bronze relief, The Back (1909–29). As a graphic artist he produced etchings, lithographs, and wood engravings, and illustrated Mallarmé's poems, James Joyce's Ulysses and other works. As a designer he produced sets and costumes for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He also designed and built the chapel for the Dominicans of Vence, near Nice, consecrated in 1951, a late work of importance in applying an entirely modern decorative sense to a religious interior.
Matisse was born in Cateau-Cambresis, the son of a grain merchant. He studied law in Paris as a young man, and was a lawyer's clerk for a while in his native district, but soon went back to Paris to take up painting. He went first to the studio of Bouguereau, then studied under Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, receiving a sound academic training. He was attracted towards Impressionism about 1897 and a period of experiment followed. For a while his work was similar in technique to the paintings of Bonnard, as in La Desserte of 1898.
Colour in its various post-Impressionist aspects – in the work of Cézanne, van Gogh, and above all Gauguin – then engaged his attention, and 1904–06 he was associated with a group of like enthusiasts, Marquet, Vlaminck, Derain, Dufy, Rouault, Braque, Friesz, and van Dongen. In the famous Salon d'Automne of 1905 the bold flat colour of Matisse and his associates earned them the title of Fauves – ‘wild beasts’. Matisse opened a school in 1907, though the students who expected encouragement in wild excesses of paint were told to copy casts and work from nature, and on these conservative lines the school lasted only a few months.
Distortion for the sake of expressing movement and a stridency of colour appear in his famous The Dance, commissioned by the wealthy Russian tea merchant Tschoukine, with its brick-red nude figures against a background of raw blue and green, but Matisse was by nature inclined to measure, tranquillity, and refinement in art. The luxurious subtleties of Persian art attracted him about 1910, and in developing a related sense of colour and in a decorative simplification of line and mass, he diverged from the movement which succeeded fauvism in the limelight, cubism, for which he had little sympathy.
For some years he travelled about the world, but settled at Nice in 1917, devoting himself to the painting of Mediterranean interiors, still life, and odalisques, characterized by great economy of means, brilliant colour, and the free use of textile patterns as a subsidiary decorative element.
Matisse, Henri Emile Benoît
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