Henri Matisse

(1869 - 1954)

Henri Matisse was a French visual artist, known for both his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter.

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Henri Matisse was a French visual artist, known for both his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.

The intense colourism of the works he painted between 1905 – 1908 brought him notoriety as one of the Fauves (French for “wild beasts”). Many of his finest works were created in the decade or so after 1906, when he developed a rigorous style that emphasized flattened forms and decorative pattern. In 1917, he relocated to a suburb of Nice on the French Riviera, and the more relaxed style of his work during the 1920s gained him critical acclaim as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting. After 1930, he adopted a bolder simplification of form.

Matisse intermittently lived and worked in Nice from 1917 until the outbreak of the Second World War when he was forced to leave. He returned to the sun-bathed French Riviera in 1943, settling into the Villa le Rêve in Vence, a medieval town just outside of Nice. The villa, with its beautiful untamed grounds full of citrus and palm trees had gorgeous views of the Cote d’Azur, was an ideal peaceful sanctuary where the artist could dedicate himself to his work.

After being diagnosed with abdominal cancer in 1941, Matisse underwent surgery that left him reliant on a wheelchair and often bedbound. Painting and sculpture had become physical challenges, so he turned to a new type of medium. With the help of his assistants, he began creating cut paper collages, or decoupage. He would cut sheets of paper, pre-painted with gouache by his assistants, into shapes of varying colours and sizes, and arrange them to form lively compositions. Initially, these pieces were modest in size, but eventually transformed into murals or room-sized works. The result was a distinct and dimensional complexity—an art form that was not quite painting, but not quite sculpture. He called the last fourteen years of his life “une seconde vie”, meaning his second life, and the cut-outs provide a brilliant final chapter to his long career.

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