Henri Matisse

"There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted." Matisse 1953"

French painter, sculptor and printmaker, Henri Matisse is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His reputation was established early as the leading figure in Fauvism, an avant-garde movement of artists whose style included an expressive rather than naturalistic use of colour, emphatic brushwork, and formal simplification. Matisse's long career included a monumental and innovative decorative art, culminating in original works made of paper cut-outs.

Born in 1869 and raised in a small commune 200 km north-east of Paris, Matisse moved to Paris at the age of 18 to begin his studies in Law. He took up painting while recuperating from appendicitis, eventually abandoning Law and enrolling at the Académie Julian in 1891under the highly successful Salon painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. A year later, Matisse was invited to join the studio of Gustave Moreau and soon entered the École des Beaux-Arts. At the age of 26, Matisse exhibited five paintings at the Salon de la Société Nationale and was invited to be an associate member of the relatively conservative Salon.

Following his success at the Salon, Matisse chartered a more experimental path, studying the Impressionists, adopting a brighter palette and exploring colour. Matisse, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and others developed a new and spontaneous language of colour and were dubbed the fauves (wild beasts) by a critic at the 1905 fall Salon.

During the early part of the 20th century, Cubism was the leading avant-garde movement, while Matisse's canvasses grew larger, more colourful and exotic. He concentrated his compositions on the direct experiences of his sitters and surroundings, influenced by his travels to Germany, Spain, Russia and Morocco. In 1908 Matisse published an important statement about the purposes of his art titled "Notes d'un peintre." The treatise outlined the basic principles that his creative production would follow throughout his career.

After a trip to Southern Italy in 1925, Matisse's favourite subject became the female nude, which he rendered in sculpture, drawing, print and paintings. Henriette Darricarrère, a musician and dancer, was Matisse's most important model during this time. Henriette II (Large Head) and Nude on a Yellow Sofa are examples of that extensive production.

Matisse's reputation was confirmed with the first monograph published in 1920 and his popularity drove up the prices for his works. In 1930, Matisse received two important commissions that would occupy him for a number of years. The commissions - illustrations of original etchings for an edition of poems by Stéphane Mallarmé and a mural decoration for the main hall of the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania – shaped the direction of his art in the 1930s and beyond.

When Matisse was diagnosed in 1941 with cancer and confined to a wheelchair, he developed ways of working on large murals from his bed. For example, paper cut-outs became elements that were used for stained glass and other large scale works. (Oceania, the Sea). Only when he was seriously ill did Matisse ever break from creating in some form or another. Matisse's reputation continues to expand as an artist who redefined painting in the 20th century.