Henri Matisse
Born in 1869 in the Picardy region of northern France, Matisse was the son of a middle-class grain merchant. At eighteen, Matisse moved to Paris to study law and work as a clerk. Then in 1890, he became seriously ill. During this phase of convalescence, Matisse took solace in painting and quickly discovered “a kind of paradise” in art, which trumped his interest in law and turned art into a life-long passion. He attended art classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1891, where he dabbled in different styles. It was the influence of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, such as Pissaro, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Signac as well as by the paintings of Turner, which led to the development of Matisse’s own style, characterized by daring, bright colors executed in broad and gestural brush strokes.

Then in 1905, Matisse began working with André Derain who shared similar stylistic interests. Following their exhibition at the Salon d’Automne, the two artists formed a group called Les Fauves, literally meaning The Wild Beasts. Though short-lived, the group experimented with abstract and expressive uses of pure color. Matisse believed that no artist had complete control over color and form, stating instead that his ultimate goal was to create, “…an art of balance, of purity and serenity, something like a good arm-chair in which one rests from physical fatigue.” From 1905 to 1906 Matisse painted his masterpiece, ‘The Joy of Life’. It is considered to be one of the most important works of twentieth century art and was bought by the famous art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes. This painting along with the whole Barnes collection was veiled from the public for 72 years. Finally in 1993, The Foundation opened its doors to the art world, showcasing their collection, including ‘The Joy of Life’.

The American writer, Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo were early collectors and supporters of Matisse paintings. Their similar interest in the work of the young Pablo Picasso united the two artists, who formed a life-long friendship and exchanged many paintings. Picasso and Matisse shared similar subject matter, such as still lifes and images of women. After World War I, Matisse had established a lofty reputation as an internationally recognized artist. In 1917 he left Paris and settled in Nice, where he remained until the end of his life. His works from this period, particularly his dancers, displayed a new more relaxed and softened approach, which can be compared to the Neo-Expressionism of Picasso’s later works.

In 1941 Matisse underwent abdominal cancer surgery, which had a devastating effect on his health and ability to paint. Since he was unable to stand upright in front of an easel, the artist turned to other forms of artistic expression. With the help of an assistant, he worked lying down in bed or sitting comfortably in an arm-chair. In this fashion, he published Jazz, a limited edition book containing paper cut-outs of the same vivid, strong colors and daring compositions as his earlier paintings. Henri Matisse died on November 3, 1954 of a heart attack in his home in Nice. He had continued creating paper cut-outs until the day of his death. Pablo Picasso once said about the artist, “All things considered, there is only Matisse.”
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