Henri Matisse was a French artist commonly regarded as one of the artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts at the beginning of the XXth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art.
Born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France, Matisse went to Paris in 1887 to study law. He first started to paint in 1889, during a period of convalescence following an attack of appendicitis. He discovered "a kind of paradise" and decided to become an artist. In 1891, he returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and became a student of William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau.
Initially he painted still-lifes and landscapes in a traditional style. Matisse was influenced by the works of earlier masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Poussin, and Antoine Watteau, as well as by modern artists such as Édouard Manet, and by Japanese art. Later in 1897 he met the Australian painter John Peter Russell who introduced him to Impressionism and to the work of van Gogh. Matisse's style changed completely.
Matisse's first solo exhibition was at Ambroise Vollard's gallery in 1904. His paintings of this period are characterized by flat shapes and controlled lines, and use pointillism in a less rigorous way than before. Matisse was recognized as a leader of the Fauves, along with André Derain. The two were friendly rivals. Other members were Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Maurice de Vlaminck. The Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau was the movement's inspirational teacher.
The decline of the Fauvist movement after 1906 did nothing to affect the rise of Matisse; many of his finest works were created between 1906 and 1917. He continued to absorb new influences: he traveled to Algeria in 1906 studying African art and Primitivism. He visited Morocco in 1912 and again in 1913 and while painting in Tangiers he made several innovative changes to his work, including his use of black as a color. In 1906 he met Pablo Picasso, who was 12 years younger than Matisse. The two became lifelong friends as well as rivals and are often compared; one key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted from nature, while Picasso was much more inclined to work from imagination.
In 1917 Matisse relocated to Cimiez on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice. His work of the decade or so following this relocation shows a relaxation and a softening of his approach. After 1930 a new vigor and bolder simplification appeared in his work. This move toward simplification and a foreshadowing of the cutout technique. He and his wife of 41 years separated in 1939. In 1941, he underwent surgery then had to use a wheelchair, and until his death he was cared for by a Russian woman, Lydia Delektorskaya, formerly one of his models. He set about creating cut paper collages, often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés. His Blue Nudes series feature prime examples of this technique he called "painting with scissors"; they demonstrate the ability to bring his eye for colour and geometry to a new medium of utter simplicity.
In 1952 he established a museum dedicated to his work, the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau, and this museum is now the third-largest collection of Matisse works in France. Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954.
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