Henri Matisse Biography

In Brief
Born in Le Cateau-Cambresis. 31 December 1869. Died in Nice. 3 November 1954. Married Amelie Noemie Alexandrine Parayre 1898; one daughter, two sons. Attended schools in St. Quentin; studied Law at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1887-88, and worked as a lawyer's clerk in St. Quentin, 1889-91; studied drawing at the Ecole Quentin de la Tour, 1890; studied under Bouguereau at the Academie Julian, Paris, 1892-93, and with Gustave Moreau from 1893-97, first unofficially, then, after 1895, as a student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts; studied sculpture with Bourdelle, 1900-03; associated at the Salon d'Autumn of 1905 with group known thereafter as Fauves; ran an art school, Paris, 1908-11; settled in Nice, 1917, and lived in Nice and Paris from 1922; stage and costume designs for Diaghilev ballet Le Chant du Rossignol, 1920. and for Rouge et Noir, also known as L'Etrange Farandole, 1939; trip around the world, 1930; painted mural for the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, 1931-33; first "cutouts," 1938; designed and illustrated books, including Mallarme's Poesies, Joyce's Ulysses, Florilege des Amours de Ronsard, and Jazz, 1930's-1940's; lived in Vence, 1943-48, and decorated Dominican Chapel there, 1948-51; worked in Nice on large decorative commissions based on paper cutouts until his death.

Major Collections:
Baltimore; Le Cateau-Cambresis: Matisse Museum; Copenhagen; Grenoble; Leningrad; Moscow; New York: Moma; Nice: Matisse Museum; Paris: Beaubourg; Philadelphia.

By MATISSE: books— Portraits, Monte Carlo, 1954.
Ecrits et propos sur l'art, edited by Dominique Fourcade, Paris, 1972. 1978.
Matisse on Art, edited by Jack D. Flam, New York and London, 1973.
On MATISSE: books— Sembat, Marcel, Matisse, Paris, 1920.
Faure, Eli, et al., Matisse, Paris, 1920, 1923.
Basler, Adolphe, Matisse, Leipzig, 1924.
Fels, Florent, Matisse, Paris, 1929.
Fry, Roger, Matisse, Paris and New York, 1930.
Jedlicka, Gotthard, Matisse, Paris, 1930.
McBride, Henry, Matisse, New York, 1930.
Zervos. Christian, Matisse, Paris, 1931, New York, 1931.
Barnes, Albert C, and Violette de Mazia, The Art of Matisse, New York, 1933.
Courthion, Pierre, Matisse, Paris, 1934.
Escholier, Raymond, Matisse, Paris, 1937.
Romm, Alexander, Matisse, Moscow, 1937, as Matisse: A Social Critique, New York, 1947.
Courthion, Pierre, Le Visage de Matisse, Lausanne, 1942.
Swane, Leo, Matisse, Stockholm, 1944, Copenhagen, 1945.
Matisse (cat), Philadelphia, 1948.
Duthuit, Georges, Les Fauves, Geneva, 1949; as The Fauvist Painters, New York, 1950.
Barr, Alfred H., Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, 1975.
Verdet, Andre, Prestiges de Matisse, Paris, 1952.
Greenberg, Clement, Matisse, New York, 1953.
Diehl, Gaston, Matisse, Paris, 1954.
Lieberman, William S., Matisse: 50 Years of his Graphic Art, New York, 1956, London, 1957.
Escholier, Raymond, Matisse, ce vivant, Paris, 1956; as Matisse from the Life, London, 1960; as Matisse: A Portrait of the Artist and the Man, New York, 1960.
Lassaigne, Jacques, Matisse, Geneva, 1959.
Wheeler, Monroe, The Last Works of Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches (cat), New York, 1961.
Selz, Jean, Matisse, Paris and New York, 1964.
Leymarie, Jean, Herbert Read, and William S. Lieberman, Matisse: Retrospective (cat), Los Angeles, 1966.
Guichard-Meili, Jean, Matisse: Son ouevre, son univers, Paris, 1967; as Matisse, New York, 1967.
Gowing, Lawrence, Matisse: 64 Paintings (cat), London and New York, 1968.
Bowness, Alan, Matisse et le nu, Paris, 1968.
Russell, John, The World of Matisse 1969-1954, New York and London 1969.
Schneider, Pierre, Matisse: Exposition du centenaire (cat), Paris, 1970.
Carlson, Victor I., Matisse as a Draughtman (cat), Baltimore, 1971.
Luzi, Mario, and Massimo Carra, L'opera di Matisse dalla rivolta "fauve" aU'intimismo 1904-1928, Milan, 1971.
Elsen, Albert, The Sculpture of Matisse, New York, 1972.
Jacobus, John, Matisse, New York, 1972.
Matisse: Dessins et sculpture (cat), Paris, 1975.
Elderfield, John, "The Wild Beasts:" Fauvism and Its Affinities (cat), New York, 1976.
Cowart, Jack, et al., Matisse: Paper Cut-outs (cat), St. Louis, 1977.
Izerghina, A., Matisse: Paintings and Sculptures in Soviet Museums, Leningrad, 1978.
Elderfield, John, Matisse in the Museum of Modem Art, New York, 1978.
Gowing, Lawrence, Matisse, London and New York, 1979. Monod-Fontaine, Isabelle, Oeuvres de Matisse [in the Musee National d'Art Moderne], Paris, i979.
Bock, Catherine C, Matisse and Neo-Impressionism 1898- 1908, Ann Arbor, 1981.
Duthuit-Matisse, Marguerite, and Claude Duthuit, Matisse: Catalogue raisonne de l'oeuvre grave, 2 vols., Paris, 1983. Monod-Fontaine, Isabelle, The Sculpture of Matisse, London, 1984.
Elderfield, John, The Drawings of Matisse, New York and London, 1984.
Elderfield, John, The Drawings of Matisse, New York and London, 1984.
Pierre Schneider, Matisse, Paris, 1984, New York, 1984.
Mazzatesta, Michael, Matisse: Sculptor/Painter: A Formal Analysis of Selected Works (cat), Fort Worth, 1984.
Flam, Jack D., Matisse: The Man and His Art, Ithaca and London, 1986.
Cowart, Jack, and Dominique Fourcade, Matisse: The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (cat), Washington 1986.
Cahiers Henri Matisse: Matisse et Tahiti, Matisse photographies, Matisse L'Art du livre, Matisse Ajaccio— Toulouse,Nice, 4 vols., 1986.
Delectorskaya, Lydia, Matisse . . . l'apparente facilite: Peintres 1935-39, Paris, 1986.
Benjamin, Roger, Matisse's "Notes of a Painter": Criticism, Theory- and Context 1891-1908, Ann Arbor, 1987.
Hahnloser, Margrit, Matisse, Meister der Graphik, Zurich, 1987; as Matisse: The Graphic Work. New York, 1988.
Flam, Jack D., Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988.
Klein, John, Matisse: Autoportraits (cat), Le Cateau- Cambresis, 1988.

The Art
Henri Matisee, toward the end of his life, acknowledged that the artistic problems he had addressed in his youth were those that the era had presented to him, not ones that he had chosen on his own. "Given our epoch and what was behind us, we did what we were obliged to do" (Duthuit, 1949). What had preceded Matisse, when he came to Paris to study art in 1892, was Impressionism and its scientific offspring, Neo-Impressionism (or Divisionism). The Impressionists had used color to achieve, in pigments, an equivalent of light reflections and refractions on objects under particular atmospheric conditions. The Neo-Impressionists, utilizing physics and color psychology, had rendered impressionist color more predictable and less naturalistic by employing exact color relationships in exact amounts. Matisse inherited this abstract color usage and combined it with two new innovations. First, in his Fauve works of 1905-07, he released color from a narrow interpretation of the theories of color harmony and simultaneous contrasts of oppositional hues; he manipulated these harmonies and contrasts according to feeling, rather than rules. Successful color harmonies corresponded to the artist's sensation, his emotional reaction to nature, not to local color or to color "laws." Color became the painter's chief element: it controlled the composition, suggested space, generated light, and conveyed emotional tone. Secondly, Matisse integrated his use of pure expressive color into an ideal of decorative art. From 1908 through 1918, he created works which had the intensity of easel paintings and the flattened, all-over rhythm proper to murals. Often, the decorative panel played its expressive color against an active pattern, harmonizing both into a calm environmental ensemble.

Matisse's innovations in the first two decades of the 20th century involved expressive color and decorative pattern. But he did not neglect the other preoccupation of his era, that which was the driving force of Cubism and Futurism: the expression of the relativity of space. "The sensation of depth without recourse to traditional perspective," Matisse acknowledged, "that was the contribution of my generation" (Courthion, 1942). Around 1911, Matisse set himself to explore the new spatial construction of pictorial space that Picasso and Braque had pioneered. While he never adopted the prismatic break-up of forms of early Cubism, nor the flat, overlapping planes of later Cubism, his investigation of his colleagues' work, especially that of Picasso and Juan Gris, resulted in monumental paintings of simplified, tectonic spatial allusions, for example, in Notre Dame (1914), Goldfish (1915), and Bathers by the River (1916).

After World War I, Matisse spent the better part of the year in Nice, a move which corresponded with a decade-long change of style. From 1916, Matisse began to concentrate on smaller easel paintings, in a more realistic, relaxed style that seemed like a reversion to Impressionism. The artist himself said he was seeking a new synthesis, a union of the innovations in color and space developed in the previous dozen years, with the elements that had been abandoned in that experimental process. The latter elements he named as chiaroscuro, the illusion of deep space, modeling with reflected light, and a certain human quality of sentiment and intimacy. The canvases of the Nice period, which were highly popular in the 1920's, seemed to convey the post-war desire for the private over the public, the modest over the ambitious, the concrete over the abstract, the individual over the universal. They are a celebration of phenomena that are fleeting, sensual, and immediate. Toward the end of the decade, the artist concentrated on drawing, sculpture, and printmaking; restless, he made a trip around the world spending six months in Tahiti and visiting the United States.

The decade of the 1930's was eventful for the artist, then in his sixties. He recommended a more abstract style, occasioned by several important decorative commissions. The first of these was a mural for the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, on which he worked for three years. He also did a large triptych on the theme of Leda and the Swan, and decorated an overmantel area in a music room for Nelson Rockefeller. A major area of decorative work during this decade was the books that Matisse designed and/or illustrated, the first being the Poesies of Mallarme. Here again the artist delighted in creating the entire decorative ensemble, from cover to cover, from choice of typeface to the design of the endpieces. Matisse often chose classical themes to illustrate (including the non-contemporary sections of Joyce's Ulysses), and he was challenged by the more complex poses and compositions that these illustrations entailed. The habitually discreet and sexually sublimating artist also allowed himself greater freedom and sensuality in handling erotic themes in these works, as the texts themselves demanded it. This sensuality can also be found in the otherwise highly abstracted and decorative canvases of the 1930's, including such works as the Pink Nude, La Reve, and Nymph and Faun. These, and other works of the 1930's such as Music, the artist characterized as a return to Fauvism, with pure, bright, unmodulated colors in large, flat areas.

The trauma of World War II coincided with an operation that nearly proved fatal to the artist at the beginning of the 1940's. While convalescent, Matisse began to work in colored paper, cutting out simple silhouettes and placing them on colored grounds. This new technique, which the artist hailed as a synthesis of drawing, painting, and sculpting, i.e., carving contours out of pure color, culminated in one of the artist's finest books, Jazz, published in 1947. The artist's absorption in this new process did not prevent him from painting some of his most beautiful oils, such as The Large Red Studio of 1948, or from continuing to produce drawings and lithographs.

Although the artist was required to spend the major part of his day in bed, he regarded his escape from death a license to great freedom, simplicity, and joy; the almost childlike technique of the cut-outs was a creative play he allowed himself in his mature years. As a culminating master-work of his old age, Matisse had the opportunity to design a Gesamtkunstwerk into which he poured all of his genius and experience with decoration, line, and color. This was the Dominican chapel, Our Lady of the Rosary, at Vence, for which Matisse designed the windows, interior decor, devotional images, vestments, liturgical objects, and steeple. It was dedicated in 1951, three years before his death. After this exhaustive effort, he worked on other major commissions up to his death, including stained glass window, tiled wall decorations, and carpets designs.

If Matisse was an innovator in technical and formal matters, he was a traditionalist in his subject matter. He never departed from the established genres: still life, landscape, portrait, life studies from the model, and classical subjects. He delighted in taking a theme, pose, or motif that was utterly conventional or banal and giving it new vitality and depth through the force of his emotional sincerity and originality of approach. By far the most frequent subject of the artist was the female face and form. Often, in his monumental panels, the female is generalized as a life-force or "natural" being, portrayed dancing, bathing, dreaming, or relaxing in outdoor settings. When using the costumed model, jay, an Odalisque or harem woman, Matisse generalizes a type from 19th-century practice: the fantasy of an exotic, sensual female who is wholly available to the masculine viewer. In these works, the artist least transcends the limitations of his genre. In dealing with a particular model, however, either in a portrait or figure-study, Matisse attempts to capture an essential quality of her character or personality, that is, to portray, as his friend Gertrude Stein would say, her "bottom nature." In any case, the artist demanded subject matter that was always inherently graceful, serene, pleasurable; he consciously eschewed the painful, depressing, or troubling.

Impressionism and Divisionism had grounded Matisse's aesthetic in a search for equivalents of light, harmony, and emotional peace. Matisse pursued these goals in every media he used, as well as in his subjects. When painting, he attempted to arrange and quantify color so that it generated radiant light and an atmosphere of resolved excitement. Space was also treated as a light-saturated ambiance that spread across the picture-plane, suggesting atmosphere that stretched from behind the viewer to the farthest point of the horizon. In his black-and-white media, namely drawing and printmaking, he used his black marks to render the white of the paper luminous, a source of light and air. In sculpture, which he pursued all his life, forms were organized, even distorted when necessary, to achieve a harmonious balance of parts to the whole, in spite of the expressively worked surfaces that caught and modulated light. Since qualities of order, balance, and sensual delight were of utmost importance to Matisse, he had no difficulty bending his efforts to decorative commissions. Indeed, besides being a child of Impressionism, he was also heir to the decorative fin-de-siecle , with its interest in applying a history-free modern style to all aspects of applied art and decor. If the paper cut-outs of the last period were able to synthesize Matisse's painting, drawing, and sculpture, they also gave him a medium for expanding his decorative interests. The late, large mural projects, including the Chapel at Vence, allowed Matisse to combine all the elements of his art into an ensembles thai surrounded the viewer with a man-made, sensual environment of serenity and joy. Here, nature and art, unity and variety, tension and release are brought into a "purity, balance, and harmony." This is what Matisse had named as his goal lor his art as early as 1908. His extraordinary, selfrenewing. 60-ycar career testifies to its continuing validity as a generative goal, and his oeuvn witnesses his success in achieving it.