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Matisse, Henri [French, 1869-1954] 

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Matisse, Henri [French, 1869-1954]


[ Biography | 20th Century Artists | Fauvist Artists ]
“Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better.”
— Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse, (b. Dec. 31, 1869, Le Cateau, Picardy, Fr. — d. Nov. 3, 1954, Nice)
artist often regarded as the most important French painter of the 20th century. The leader of the Fauvist movement around 1900, Matisse pursued the expressiveness of colour throughout his career. His subjects were largely domestic or figurative, and a distinct Mediterranean verve presides in the treatment.

The art of our century has been dominated by two men: Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. They are artists of classical greatness, and their visionary forays into new art have changed our understanding of the world. Matisse was the elder of the two, but he was a slower and more methodical man by temperament and it was Picasso who initially made the greater splash. Matisse, like Raphael, was a born leader and taught and encouraged other painters, while Picasso, like Michelangelo, inhibited them with his power: he was a natural czar.

Matisse's artistic career was long and varied, covering many different styles of painting from Impressionism to near Abstraction. Early on in his career Matisse was viewed as a Fauvist, and his celebration of bright colors reached its peak in 1917 when he began to spend time on the French Riviera at Nice and Vence. Here he concentrated on reflecting the sensual color of his surroundings and completed some of his most exciting paintings. In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed as having duodenal cancer and was permanently confined to a wheelchair. It was in this condition that he completed the magnificent Chapel of the Rosary in Vence.

Matisse's art has an astonishing force and lives by innate right in a paradise world into which Matisse draws all his viewers. He gravitated to the beautiful and produced some of the most powerful beauty ever painted. He was a man of anxious temperament, just as Picasso, who saw him as his only rival, was a man of peasant fears, well concealed. Both artists, in their own fashion, dealt with these disturbances through the sublimation of painting: Picasso destroyed his fear of women in his art, while Matisse coaxed his nervous tension into serenity. He spoke of his art as being like “a good armchair” — a ludicrously inept comparison for such a brilliant man — but his art was a respite, a reprieve, a comfort to him.

Matisse initially became famous as the “King of the Fauves”, an inappropriate name for this gentlemanly intellectual: there was no wildness in him, though there was much passion. He is an awesomely controlled artist, and his spirit, his mind, always had the upper hand over the “beast” of Fauvism.

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  Matisse, Henri [French, 1869-1954]

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