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Henri Matisse – French Father of Fauvism

Henri Matisse – French Father of Fauvism  entered the World of Art relatively late in life.  That notwithstanding, he became one of the Centuries most important artists.  As important as Picasso. And for good reason.

Matisse spearheaded  one of the most innovative artistic movements – “Fauvism.” In a sentence, the object of Fauvism is to express emotion primarily by the use of color. Rather than use color  solely to depict a particular subject.

In addition to being a remarkable painter, Matisse was also a sculptor of great ability and a lithographer. Late in life when he was confined to a wheelchair, he created a series of  forms from paper cut -outs.  It is these images that the general public relates him to.

The Museum of Mordern Art has more details of the life and work of Fauvist Father Henri Matisse:

“Matisse was born in his grandparents’ home and grew up in the neighbouring village of Bohain-en-Vermandois, where his father’s general store had developed into a grain business. He worked first as a solicitor’s clerk in the local town of Saint-Quentin before taking a degree in law in Paris from October 1887 to August 1889, without apparently showing the slightest interest in art; on returning home he resumed work as a solicitor’s clerk. Bored by the routine of office life, he attended drawing classes at the Ecole Quentin Latour before going to work.

In winter 1889 Matisse took up painting during a prolonged period of convalescence from appendicitis. He abandoned law and obtained his father’s grudging permission to study painting in Paris. He registered at the Académie Julian on 5 October 1891 and entered the class of the highly successful Salon painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau to prepare for the entrance examination to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. From October 1892, after failing this examination, he took courses in drawing and perspective at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. Like other students, he also hoped to be invited to work informally in the studio of one of the professors by drawing in the glass-enclosed court of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from casts of Greek and Roman sculpture. Among the few surviving drawings of this type is Hermes Adjusting his Sandal (c. 1892; Nice, Mus. Matisse), after a statue by Lysippos.

In 1892 Matisse was invited to join the studio of Gustave Moreau, who had been appointed professor in January of that year. He passed the official entrance examination of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1895 and remained in Moreau’s studio until his marriage to Amélie Parayre in January 1898. As a student he despised Bouguereau’s rather mindless insistence on the mechanical imitation of surface appearances, but he developed great respect and affection for Moreau, who gave him sympathetic encouragement and who stressed the power of the imagination and of feeling. Moreau was unusual as a teacher in wishing his students to begin by painting in order to develop their gifts as colourists.

Following Moreau’s emphasis on the study of Old Masters, Matisse copied at least 19 paintings in the Louvre from 1893 to 1900; he produced, among other works,The Ray (1894–1900; Le Cateau, Mus. Matisse), after Jean-Siméon Chardin. Although he later reacted against his academic training, he continued later in life to make direct reference to earlier paintings and to emphasize the primacy in his art of drawing from the human figure.

The style and subject-matter of Matisse’s first original paintings, culminating in such works as The Reader (1895; Paris, Pompidou) and Interior with a Top Hat(1896; Paris, priv. col., see Watkins, 1984, p. 21), owe little or nothing to his teachers. They are for the most part modest still-lifes and interiors, firmly based on reality, in a restricted tonal palette influenced above all by his copies after Dutch masters and Chardin and by exhibitions he had seen of the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Edouard Manet. The Reader, purchased by Mme Félix Faure, wife of the President of the Republic, for the official summer residence at Rambouillet, was one of the four paintings selected from his submission of seven for exhibition at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1896. Matisse became an associate member of the Salon in that year and, at the age of 26, appeared to be destined to a future as a conservative and moderately successful painter.

From his first one-man exhibition, which opened at Vollard’s gallery on 1 June 1904, Matisse obtained neither critical nor commercial success. Yet, rather than return to a traditional realist mode, he continued to explore the expressive potential of colour. He spent two summers painting in small Mediterranean ports, at St Tropez in 1904 and in 1905 at Collioure, close to the Spanish border; each succeeding winter in Paris he synthesized his discoveries about colour in large paintings from his imagination: Luxe, calme et volupté (1904–5; Paris, Pompidou), the title of which was taken from the repeated refrain of Baudelaire’s poemL’Invitation au voyage, and the Joy of Life (1905–6; Merion Station, PA, Barnes Found.).

Matisse and his wife stayed at St Tropez with the leading Neo-Impressionist painter, Paul Signac. The renewed experience of Mediterranean light resulted in an immediate brightening of Matisse’s palette and in his subsequent decision to abandon brown underpainting. It was to the work of Cézanne, however, rather than to Neo-Impressionism, that Matisse looked most for inspiration at St Tropez, and his use of broad brushstrokes in the Terrace, St Tropez (1904; Boston, MA, Isabella Stewart Gardner Mus.) led to a quarrel with Signac. The imagery of idealized nudes posed by the sea in Luxe, calme et volupté, Matisse’s only major painting in a Neo-Impressionist style, may have been suggested by the work of another Neo-Impressionist painter, Henri Edmond Cross, resident in the neighbouring town of Saint-Clair. Matisse’s setting is based on a landscape painted at St Tropez, By the Sea (1904; Düsseldorf, Kstsamml. Nordrhein-Westfalen), which shows his wife and son Pierre on the beach below Signac’s house. On his return to Paris that winter Matisse followed Signac’s academic process for large landscapes by proceeding from a painted study and cartoon to the final work. Luxe, calme et volupté was exhibited in March 1905 at the Neo-Impressionist-dominated Salon des Indépendants and was purchased by Signac.

Despite Matisse’s later strictures about the expressive limitations of working to a system, the Neo-Impressionist concept of the colours on the painter’s palette as approximations of the pure hues of the visible spectrum suggested to him a way of organizing bright colours in terms of autonomous relationships that were independent of any descriptive function. At Collioure in the summer of 1905, stimulated by Derain and by the example of van Gogh and Gauguin, Matisse developed this new language of colour in a more spontaneous way. the Open Window, Collioure (1905; New York, Mr and Mrs J. H. Whitney priv. col., see Watkins, 1984, p. 61) and the portrait of Derain (1905; London, Tate), when exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in October 1905 along with works by Derain, Vlaminck and others, appeared to the public as brash and primitive. Matisse and his colleagues were branded the fauves (‘wild beasts’), from which the movement known as Fuavism took its name. Some of the most daring works associated with the style, such as Matisse’s picture of his wife known as the Portrait with the Green Stripe (1905; Copenhagen, Stat. Mus. Kst), date from this period.

Before the reactions had died down, Matisse was hard at work on his second great imaginary composition, the Joy of Life , in a large space which he had rented in a former convent, the Couvent des Oiseaux, at 56, Rue de Sèvres, and which he kept as his studio until 1908. In this key work, which depicts a harem of Oriental women transposed to the West, broad areas of unmodulated colour are conjoined with sinuous linear arabesques. The sources for the painting are a complex compendium of his own work—including his student copies after Watteau and Poussin, Japanese woodcuts, Persian miniatures, the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé—and earlier representations of an earthly paradise such as Titian’s The Andrians (1523–5; Madrid, Prado), Agostino Carracci’s engraving Love in the Golden Age(c. 1589–95), Ingres’s the Age of Gold (1843–9; Dampierre, Château) and, above all, Gauguin’s sensuous treatment of the subject in such paintings as Te arii vahine (Queen of Beauty) (1896; Moscow, Pushkin Mus. F.A.). As with Luxe, calme et volupté, Matisse established the setting in a landscape painted directly from the motif (Landscape at Collioure, 1905; Copenhagen, Stat. Mus. Kst) and in Paris proceeded from studies and sketches to a full-scale rehearsal in a cartoon. The final painting was his only exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants in March 1906. Even Matisse’s own supporters were shocked. Pure, flat colours had been seen before, but not on such a large scale.”

Read more HERE about Fauvist Painter and Sculptor Henri Matisse.