Henri Matisse

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Matisse, Henri

(äNrē` mätēs`), 1869–1954, French painter, sculptor, and lithographer. Along with PicassoPicasso, Pablo
(Pablo Ruiz y Picasso) , 1881–1973, Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and ceramist, who worked in France. He is generally considered in his technical virtuosity, enormous versatility, and incredible originality and prolificity to have been the
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, Matisse is considered one of the two foremost artists of the modern period. His contribution to 20th-century art is inestimably great.

Matisse began to study law and, during an illness in 1890, took up painting, thereafter forsaking law entirely. He studied first with the academician BouguereauBouguereau, Adolphe William
, 1825–1905, French academic painter. He won the Prix de Rome in 1850 and became extremely popular during the 1860s and 70s. He is famous for his nudes and for his historical and religious paintings. His La Jeunesse et l'Amour is in the Louvre.
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 and then with Gustave MoreauMoreau, Gustave
, 1826–98, French painter. He was known for his pictures of the weird and mystical. The recipient of many honors, he refused to sell his paintings except to friends.
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, in whose studio he met many painters who would soon attain prominence with him in the fauvist movement. Matisse's earliest work was exceptionally mature. He explored impressionism (e.g., La Desserte, 1897; Niarchos Coll., Athens) and, coming into contact with the theories of Paul SignacSignac, Paul
, 1863–1935, French neoimpressionist painter. First influenced by Monet, he was later associated with Seurat in developing the divisionist technique. Interested in the science of color, he painted with a greater intensity and with broader strokes than Seurat.
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, drew upon neoimpressionist styles as in Luxe, calme et volupté (c.1905; private coll.). To learn aspects of composition he made variations on the works of the old masters in the Louvre, a practice he continued for many years (e.g., Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, c.1915; S. A. Marx Coll., Chicago).

Matisse began exhibiting in 1896 and at first was unsuccessful. In 1905 at Collioure, a Mediterranean village, he began using pure primary color as a significant structural element. His portrait of Mme Matisse, known as The Green Line (1905; State Mus., Copenhagen), exemplifies this abstract, intellectual use of color. In 1905 he exhibited at the Salon d'automne with the group of artists called fauves [Fr.,=wild beasts], so named for their remarkable, exuberant use of color. Matisse became a leader of fauvismfauvism
[Fr. fauve=wild beast], name derisively hurled at and cheerfully adopted by a group of French painters, including Matisse, Rouault, Derain, Vlaminck, Friesz, Marquet, van Dongen, Braque, and Dufy.
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, delighting in vivid color for its sensual and decorative value.

After the demise of fauvism Matisse continued to use color to communicate his joy in bold pattern and striking ornament, e.g., in The Moorish Screen (1921; Phila. Mus. of Art) and Lady in Blue (1937; private coll.). He experimented frequently with different sorts of expressive abstraction, as in The Blue Nude (1907; Baltimore Mus. of Art), Mlle Landsberg (1914; Phila. Mus. of Art), and The Piano Lesson (1916; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City), but he rejected cubism in order to develop his own ideas. In 1908 Matisse wrote out his theories for La Grande Revue; he wished, if possible, to paint a visual representation of his emotional reaction to a subject rather than its realistic appearance. By 1909 the artist's fame was worldwide.

Matisse's early sculpture reveals an interest in African art and in RodinRodin, Auguste
, 1840–1917, French sculptor, b. Paris. He began his art study at 14 in the Petite École and in the school of Antoine Barye, earning his living by working for an ornament maker. In 1863 he went to work for the architectural sculptor A. E.
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. Matisse designed for the ballet (1920, 1938) and illustrated works by MallarméMallarmé, Stéphane
, 1842–98, French poet. Mallarmé's great importance is as the chief forebear of the symbolists; the influence of his poetry was particularly felt by Valéry.
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 (1932) and BaudelaireBaudelaire, Charles
, 1821–67, French poet and critic. His poetry, classical in form, introduced symbolism (see symbolists) by establishing symbolic correspondences among sensory images (e.g., colors, sounds, scents).
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 (1944), among many others. His superbly simple line drawings rank among the greatest works of graphic art of the 20th cent. In his last years he also made brilliant paper cutouts and stencils (e.g., Jazz, 1947; Philadelphia Mus. of Art), as gay and as strong in design as his earliest work. When he was nearly 80, Matisse volunteered to decorate the Dominican nuns' chapel at Vence, France. His fresh and joyous works for the chapel include black-and-white murals, semiabstract stained-glass windows, a stone altar, a bronze cross, carved doors, and an array of colorful vestments. His work on the chapel was completed in 1951, and Matisse declared it his masterpiece.

The largest collections of Matisse's works are in the Baltimore Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.


See catalog from his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City (1992); biography by H. Spurling (2 vol., 1998–2005); J. Russell, Matisse: Father and Son (1999); studies by J. Guichard-Meili (tr. 1967) and L. Aragon (2 vol., tr. 1972).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Matisse, Henri


(full Name Henri-Emile-Benolt Matisse). Born Dec. 31, 1869, in Le Cateau, in Picardy; died Nov. 3, 1954, in Cimiez, near Nice. French painter, graphic artist, and sculptor.

Matisse studied in Paris at the Académie Julian under A. W. Bouguereau (from 1891), at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (from 1893), and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under G. Moreau (1895–99). He turned out copies of works of French and Dutch old masters. Matisse was subsequently influenced by the neo-impressionists (mainly P. Signac), P. Gauguin, Oriental Arab art, and, to some extent, ancient Russian icon painting (having visited Moscow in 1911, he was one of the first in the West to appreciate the artistic merits of icons).

Between 1905 and 1907, Matisse was a leader of the fauvists. At about the same time, he developed a new type of artistic expression, using a simplified, strong yet fluent line, rhythmic composition, and the contrasting juxtaposition of a few zones of color. During this period the artist used intense local colors (the murals for the Moscow residence of S. I. Schchukin Dance and Music, 1910, Hermitage, Leningrad) or colors that were semi-transparent and revealed the texture of the canvas (The Artist’s Studio, 1911, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow).

Matisse’s works executed between 1915 and 1920 are marked by a restraint and severity that reveal the influence of cubism (The Piano Lesson, 1916-17, Museum of Modern Art, New York). His works of the 1920’s, in contrast, are characterized by a realistic approach and by softer and more varied colors (the Odalisque cycle). In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Matisse summed up the innovations of the preceding periods, combining the fauvist search for free decorativeness with an analytically clear composition (the frieze The Dance II, 1931-32, Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pa., USA) and a subtle palette (Plum Tree Branch, 1948, private collection, New York).

Matisse’s works all share common features. Seeking to juxtapose the bustling intensity of 20th-century life with the eternally positive elements of living, the artist recreated in his works life’s joyful side—the world of never-ending dance, the serene calm of idyllic scenes, the decorativeness of rugs and textiles, and the sparkle of fruits, vases, bronze vessels, and statuettes. Matisse strove to bring the viewer into this sphere of ideal images and dreams and to impart to him a sense of peace or curious uneasiness.

The emotional impact of Matisse’s paintings is achieved primarily through intensity of color, through the musicality of linear rhythms that suggest intrinsic movement of forms, and through the interdependence of the pictorial components. Because of this interdependence, objects at times seem to be transformed into arabesques or spots of pure color (Red Fish, 1911; Still Life With Shell, 1940—both in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts).

Matisse was also a graphic artist. Working in pen, pencil, and charcoal, he did etchings, line engravings, and lithographs. Matisse drew on white or black backgrounds fine lines that were sometimes broken and sometimes long and flowing (the cycle Themes and Variations, charcoal and pen, 1941; illustrations for Mallarmé’s Poésies [etchings, 1932], A. de Montherlant’s Pastphaé [line engraving, 1944], and Ronsard’s Les Amours [lithograph, 1948]. In the 1940’s the artist made a number of collages out of colored paper (the cycle Jazz, 1944-47).

Matisse first developed an interest in sculpture at the outset of the 20th century. He sculptured more frequently in the 1920’s and 1930’s (the relief Back of a Female Nude, bronze, 1930, Museum of Art, Zurich). Matisse’s last work was the design for the interior of the Chapel of the Rosaries (including the stained-glass windows) in Vence, near Nice (1953).

Although Matisse did not address himself to the specific events of his time and did not respond directly to the social upheavals of the epoch, the cheerfulness and unswerving optimism of his works demonstrated the artist’s humanistic values. Matisse, a member of a progressive circle of French intellectuals and a fighter for peace, sympathized with the USSR. The best collections of the artist’s works are in museums in Moscow and Leningrad.


Sbornik statei o tvorchestve. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from French and German.)


Romm, A. G. Matiss. Moscow, 1935.
Alpatov. M. V. Matiss. Moscow, 1969.
Matiss: Zhivopis’. Skul’ptura. Grafika. Pis’ma [Catalog of works in museums of the USSR]. Leningrad, 1969.
Fry, R. Henri Matisse. New York, 1935.
Barr, A. H. Matisse: His Art and His Public. New York, 1951.
Leymarie, J., H. Read, and W. S. Liebermann. Henri Matisse [Catalog of the H. Matisse Retrospective]. Berkeley, 1966.
Henri Matisse, Exposition du centenaire. Paris, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.