French artist Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869. He is best known for his use of expressive color and exaggerated form to convey emotion, and was a member of a group of early 20th century modern artist known as “les Fauves.” His influential career spanned over six decades.
His deep love for creating art began when Matisse was 21 and began painting as he was recovering from illness. Realizing that this is what he was meant to do, Matisse moved to Paris in 1891 to begin his formal artistic schooling. While attending famous schools like Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts, he was taught the “academic method” of painting and drawing, which involved observing live models and copying techniques of older famous artists. Being exposed to this classic form of training and also observing Post-Impressionist artists Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh helped him to develop his unique style.
He began showing his work in the 1890s and gained recognition from a small audience. At the beginning of the 20th century, Matisse’s work took a more progressive turn as he was inspired by the Pointillist work of artists like Paul Signac and Georges Seurat, who painted using small dots of color rather than heavy brushstrokes. He began to show his work at more progressive independent salons rather than the more traditional official salons he had exhibited in previously.
From 1904-1905, Matisse began to have several artistic breakthroughs when visits to southern France and the Mediterranean inspired him to paint bright vivid imagery with distorted color and form. It was during this time that he produced some of his most important works including Open Window and Woman With a Hat. At one of his Parisian exhibitions in 1905, a contemporary art critic reviewed the show, speaking of the distorted work of some artists calling them “fauves” or “wild beasts.”
Fauvism became the term used for Matisse’s style of painting, which he continued to express through bold color choices and undulating brushstrokes. Now that Matisse had developed his signature style, his popularity began to soar, and he remained well-known for his work even after the luster of Fauvism had faded. He began to travel the world searching for inspiration, and famous collectors like Gertrude Stein purchased his works.
Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Matisse continued to paint with his signature use of saturated colors and strong outlines, but he also dappled with geometric forms often used in Cubism, which was pioneered by his lifelong friend and artistic rival, Pablo Picasso. Though he adopted some other abstract tendencies, his subject nature was still mostly traditional.
He moved to Nice in the French Riviera in 1921, mostly painting nudes in the comfort of his own studio and thoroughly exploring the world of printmaking. During the 1920s, he also was the subject of a scholarly book, which anchored his importance in the world of modern art, even as the movement was still going on and evolving. Matisse was also hired to paint several major commissioned pieces and draw illustrations for limited edition poetry books.
By the 1940s, his health had declined and he was mostly bedridden, drawing from bed using a long pole with pencil or charcoal attached to the end to reach the canvas. His later works were just as vibrant and experimental as his earlier pieces, and for one of his last major projects from 1948-1951, he designed stained-glass windows, murals, furnishings, and even sacred vestments for church priests at the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence on the French Riviera.
Matisse died on November 3, 1954 in Nice. His decades of work and pivotal role in the modern movement make him one of the most highly respected artists of the 20th century.