The story of Impressionism is broad and varied, like the Impressionist style. Was Matisse a true Impressionist in the same way Monet was? Perhaps not. However, his work is certainly a descendant of Impressionism. Less like van Gogh, and more like Picasso, Matisse is one of the great founders of modern art. Matisse was an extreme, avant-garde innovator until the end.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was the son of a wealthy Parisian grain merchant. He studied law and didn’t start painting until the 1880s, eventually deciding to pursue art to the great disappointment of his father.
Self-Portrait in a Striped T-Shirt (1906)
He was introduced to the great works of Impressionism, and of the works of van Gogh. He befriended the elder statesman of Impressionism, Camille Pissarro. He began to go into debt buying works from his favorite contemporary artists, including: Rodin, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Cézanne’s famous “Bathers” painting. Like other modern painters, he found inspiration in Paul Signac’s essay, “D’Eugène Delacroix au Néo-impressionisme.” His early paintings were particularly inspired by Cézanne:
Gustave Moreau’s Studio (1894-1895)
Le Mur Rose (1898) -the painting led a storied career throughout the rise of the Nazis during WWII, originally owned by a German-Jewish entrepreneurial family, before being taken by Mr. Gerstein, essential creator of the Zyklon B gas before he hung himself while being investigated for war crimes. The painting was found among his possessions by French authorities. It has eventually found its way through various bequests and donations to a German-Jewish museum.
Vase of Sunflowers (1898)
Still Life with Compote, Apples and Oranges (1899)
Study of a Nude (1899)
Matisse’s early years were marred by struggle. He showcased his works with the “Fauves” a group much like the Impressionists, derisively named by a critic as the “Donatello chez les fauves” (Donatello among the wild beasts). His piece, “The Woman With A Hat” was purchased by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo Stein, which greatly improved Matisse’s morale and economic standing. He became a leader of the Fauves, along with his rival, André Derain. Their intellectual leader was Gustave Moreau, a professor who encouraged his students to think outside the established norms. The popularity of the Fauves declined after 1906, but Matisse continued to enjoy success.
Woman With A Hat (1905) – the painting at the center of the Fauve controversy and which was purchased by Leo and sister Gertrude Stein. It is a portrait of the artist’s wife.
View of Collioure (1905) – setting: Matisse’s apartment on the South-Coast of France
Landscape at Collioure (1905)
Open Window at Collioure (1905)
Luxe, Calme et Volupté (1904) – the title comes from a Baudelaire poem meaning “Luxury, Peace, and Pleasure.” The painting was highly influenced by the “neo-Impressionist” style. Note the mirrored style of pointillism/divisionist pioneered by Seurat.
Sometimes called “The Green Stripe” for the green line that divides the portrait down the middle. The portrait was shocking and controversial upon its exhibition. (1905)
Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) (1905-1906) -the painting is regarded as one of the pillars of early modernist artwork. It sits on a huge canvas. It showcases elements of the abstract, with a variety of nude bodies in various positions in nature. In the center is a miniature portrayal of Matisse’s The Dance created later in 1910. As with much of Matisse and Picasso, the painting is aware of its own shock-value, and it led Picasso to attempt to outdo Matisse in shock-value after he observed this painting. Matisse was inspired by “golden age” classical works of art.
As his artwork progressed, he found himself frequently compared to Picasso. They first met at the flat of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, where both Picasso and Matisse’s works were featured, along with Cézanne and Renoir. Matisse tends to focus on themes that proceed from nature, while Picasso produces work beginning in the imagination.
Blue Nude (1906) -as with many other works by Matisse, the painting caused great outrage. In particular, the race/national identity of the posing nude was difficult to decipher, causing the painting to be burned in effigy in Chicago, IL after its release.
Le Madras Rouge (1907)
The Dance (1910) -a critical turning point in modern art and Matisse’s career. Matisse called it”the overpowering climax of luminosity.” The painting is often associated with the “Dance of the Young Girls” from Igor Stravinsky’s famous musical work The Rite of Spring. It is a carefree hedonistic work that perhaps closely mirrors the Epicurean vision of modern life. It was commissioned by a Russian benefactor.
L’Atelier Rouge (1911)
Matisse took a trip to Morocco in the early 20th century:
Window at Tangier (1912)
Portrait de famille (The Music Lesson) (1917)
Blue Nude II (1952) -as his health deteriorated, Matisse was unable to paint in later life so he created paper cut-out pieces of art. This was part of a series of “Blue Nude” works.
Matisse struggled with poor health all his life, and in later life his health went into decline when he contracted abdominal cancer. He underwent a surgery that prevented him from painting. Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. Alfred C. Barnes was a great fan and benefactor of Matisse’s work.