About Matisse

"When I put a green, it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky." – Henri Matisse

Born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, in 1869, Henri Matisse trained to be a lawyer before developing an interest in art. He began painting in 1889, when his mother bought him art supplies while he was recovering from an illness. With his discovery of art — "a kind of paradise" — Matisse decided to become an artist and moved to Paris to study painting in 1891.

Matisse drawing in the corner of his apartment in Nice with one of his models dressed in odalisque fashion in 1927-1928.
Photo: Archives Henri Matisse (D.R.)

He followed the traditional academic path, first at the Académie Julian and then at the École des Beaux-Arts, but he also observed the dynamic and experimental contemporary Parisian art scene. When Matisse discovered Impressionism and the works of Vincent van Gogh sometime around 1896, his style shifted dramatically.

Matisse, along with artist André Derain, became the leader of the style known as Fauvism — named for painters derided as "les fauves," or “wild beasts,” and defined by jarring color and strong painterly technique. Matisse’s style continued to evolve and, by the 1910s, he had left Fauvism behind and created an artistic approach that was uniquely his own.

Along with his friend and rival Pablo Picasso, Matisse helped to change the rules of art through his bold use of color, form, and space, and became one of the new leaders of the avant-garde.

Matisse’s career spanned the first half of the 20th century — a period defined by rapid artistic innovation. His style, techniques, and subjects evolved throughout the years, but his dedication to growth and artistic skill remained consistent. His constant exploration of pattern, color, and decoration over a 60-year career produced a remarkable and innovative body of work. He was an artist whose late productions were as original and vital as his early innovations.

He worked until the day he died at the age of 84. Just five years earlier, the celebrated art critic Clement Greenberg declared that Matisse was a “self-assured master who can no more help painting well than breathing.”