Modern Art - Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

French Painter, 1986 - 1954

Henri Matisse was one of the pioneers twentieth-century painting. At the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Matisse met many of the artists who were later to belong to the art movement of the Fauves.

By 1899, Matisse began to experiment with figures and still lifes painted in direct, non-descriptive color. Throughout his career, Matisse moved toward eliminating details and simplifying line and color. Although Matisse occasionally returned to a rich and elaborate patterning in his paintings, this was always followed by a further reduction and stripping away non-essentials. Matisse created his own sort of architectural simplification that became his own variety of Cubism.

The Fauves movement got its name when an art critic, upon viewing a sculpture in the style of Donatello among the 1905 Salon exhibit, exclaimed, "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" (Donatello among the wild beasts!). Matisse and his fellow artists embraced the term. They felt it had a particular reference to the brilliant arbitrary color that characterized their work. The Fauves used violent color squeezed directly from the tube. They were not trying to describe objects in nature, or to set up retinal vibrations and not to accentuate a mystical subject. They wanted to create new values within the painting, the first step of the real trend in twentieth century art, which was to move the subject of the painting into itself.

In Matisse's painting, The Dance, he combined his various experiments in one of his finest paintings. The masterful arrangement of undulating lines of figures, although possessing perspective, live vibrantly on the surface plane of the painting. This was an ancestor of abstraction in modern painting. Matisse would often return to the nude with sensuality and boldness.

Matisse succeeded in assimilating the influence of African sculpture into his art with The Blue Nude. Matisse responded to the charges of 'ugliness' made against this painting by saying: "If I met such a woman in the street, I should run away in terror. Above all, I do not create a woman, I make a picture." Matisse was inspired by what he called "the invented planes and proportions" of African sculpture and took a giant step toward liberating twentieth century art from its previous dependence on subject matter.