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The Colorful Henri Matisse Paintings

Henri Matisse’s paintings are iconic and recognisable anywhere. They are characterised by their bold, expressive, non-naturalistic color & loose brushwork and simplified forms. 

Henri Matisse Paintings - Fauvism Art
Henri Matisse Paintings showing bold use of color
pixelsniper  on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Henri Matisse is widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the 20th century. He emerged as a Post-Impressionist, and achieved ultimate recognition as one of the leaders of the Fauvism art movement. 

Along with his contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso, he played a major role in advancing plastic arts in the early 20th century, and laying the foundations for modern painting and sculpture. 

Background

Matisse was born into a middle-class family. As expected of him, he studied and began to practice law. However, during the long recovery from an appendicitis attack, he started painting to kill off the boredom. However, painting arose such strong passions for him, he decided to drop the law and become an artist. This was a huge disappointment to his parents.

Matisse described painting as “a kind of paradise”

The Influences on Matisse

Like so many other artists, Matisse went to Paris to study art formally. His first teachers were of the old school and taught him the traditional painting techniques. As a result, Matisse’s early paintings are still-lifes and landscapes in the traditional style.

Henri Matisse paintings in traditional style entitled: Woman Reading
Henri Matisse Painting – Early works painted in traditional style [Public Domain]

Matisse also went on to study more contemporary art and in particular, the paintings of the emerging impressionists. Through the impressionists, he began to experiment with color and brush strokes, earning a reputation as a rebellious painter of his studio classes.

The painters however who most influenced Matisse were Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. He studied their works and through them discovered how to use color to render forms and organize spatial planes.

A few years later, Matisse encounters the paintings of the neoimpressionists, Henri Edmond Cross and Paul Signac. Cross and Signac were painting in the Pointilism style, juxtaposing small strokes (often dots or “points”) of color to form an image. Matisse adopted their technique and modified it repeatedly, using broader strokes.

Henri Matisse Paintings-Pointillism Art
Henri Matisse paintings in Pointillism style

By 1905 he had produced some of the boldest color images ever created, including a striking picture of his wife, Green Stripe (Madame Matisse).

What I dream of is an art of balance, purity, and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter… a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. ” 
– Henri Matisse

Matisse Gains Recognition

Unlike so many other painters, Matisse’s paintings won the approval by a number of influential critics and collectors. This also included the American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein and her family. He received many important commissions and was able to live well from his paintings.

From the 1920s until his death, Matisse spent 37 years in the south of France, and in particularly Nice. He enjoyed painting local scenes with a thin, fluid application of bright color.

Henri Matisse Painting
Seated Woman Back Turned to the Open Window – Henri Matisse Paintings

In his old age, he was commissioned to design and decorate a small Chapel of Saint-Marie du Rosaire in Vence.

Late Years and Death

After major surgery in 1941, Matisse was confined to a wheelchair. Painting became too difficult so he started creating beautiful artworks by drawing and working with paper cut-outs.

Henri Matisse Paper Cut Outs at the Matisse Museum in Nic
Alberto Botella on Flickr – Henri Matisse Paper Cut Outs at the Matisse Museum in Nice

The paper cut-outs encouraged Matisse to simplify forms even further, distilling the object’s “essential character” until it became a symbol of itself. He used the paper cut-out technique to design the stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, France.

With the help of assistants, Matisse was able to continue working throughout his illness.

Matisse died in Nice on November 3, 1954 of cancer. Unlike many artists, he was internationally popular during his lifetime, enjoying the the success and fame from collectors, art critics, and the younger generation of artists.

Museums in France For Viewing Henri Matisse’s Paintings & Artworks

In Cote D’Azur

The Musée Matisse, Nice

The Matisse museum is entirely devoted Matisse’s masterpieces. It offers one of the largest collections of his works. The museum follows his early beginnings and artistic evolution throughout the years.

The museum itself is located in the Villa des Arènes, a 17th-century building located close to the Cimiez quarter. The permanent exhibition includes Henri Matisse’s oil paintings, drawings, sculptures, tapestries and paper cut-outs.

Musee Matisse, Nice
Musee Matisse, Nice / Photo by debs-eye (CC BY 2.0)

La Chapelle du Rosaire near Vence

On the outskirts of Vence is the Chapelle du Rosaire, also known as the Matisse Chapel. Matisse designed this unique and beautiful chapel as a token of gratitude to Monique Bourgeois, a nun who nursed him through illness.

Between 1947 and 1951 the artist designed and decorated the chapel. It is an usual chapel, with stark white walls and floors, contrasted with vibrant stainglass windows, shimmering in yellow, blue and green colors. It is an artistic accomplishment born out of affection to the nun rather than personal religious sentiment. For more information press here.

The beautiful Stained-glass windows in the Matisse Chapel in Vence
The beautiful Stained-glass windows in the Matisse Chapel in Vence

In Paris

The Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris exhibits nearly two dozen paintings by Matisse. There is even a room called “the Matisse Room” showcasing the monumental painting entitled La Danse.

The Matisse Room in Musee D'Art Moderne in Paris
La Danse photo by Daisuke Sakai  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Centre Pompidou is one of the most popular museums in the world. The museum has the second largest collection of modern and contemporary art in the world. In this museum thre are several significant Henri Matisse Paintings, such as a Woman Reading (1894) and Auguste Pellerin II (1916-1917).

Musee D’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie are two wonderful museums that also exhibit some significant Henri Matisse paintings.

In Le Cateau

Musée Matisse le Cateau Cambrésis is located in the town where he was born. This museum holds one of France’s largest Matisse collections, estabished by the artist himself in 1952.

Entrance to the Matisse Museum, Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Entrance to the Matisse Museum, Le Cateau-Cambrésis / Photo by Michael Jones (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)