Matisse began to study law and, during an illness in 1890, took up painting, thereafter forsaking law entirely. He studied first with the academician Bouguereau and then with Gustave Moreau , 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 Signac , 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 fauvism , 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 Rodin . Matisse designed for the ballet (1920, 1938) and illustrated works by Mallarmé (1932) and Baudelaire (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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: European Art, 1600 to the Present: Biographies
Browse by Subject
- Earth and the Environment +-
- History +-
- Literature and the Arts +-
- Medicine +-
- People +-
- Philosophy and Religion +-
- Places +-
- Australia and Oceania
- Britain, Ireland, France, and the Low Countries
- Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic Nations
- Germany, Scandinavia, and Central Europe
- Latin America and the Caribbean
- Oceans, Continents, and Polar Regions
- Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans
- United States, Canada, and Greenland
- Plants and Animals +-
- Science and Technology +-
- Social Sciences and the Law +-
- Sports and Everyday Life +-