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Henri Matisse, 20th century master

Updated on January 8, 2012

Henri Matisse was born on December 31, 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambresis, Nord, France. His parents owned a seed business. Like many of the Impressionist artists who came before him had done, Matisse attended law school beginning in 1887. He didn’t begin painting until 1889 when his mother gave him paints to keep him busy while he got over an appendicitis attack. He quickly decided that this was what he wanted to do with his life, disappointing his father greatly.

Matisse began studying art at the Academie Julian in 1891. From 1907 to 1911, he ran the Academie Matisse where he taught others how to paint.

In 1894, Mattise became a father when one of his models had a daughter. In 1898, Matisse married Amelie Noelle Parayre; the couple had two sons. They were divorced in 1939.


Matisse had his first exhibit in 1896 where the state bought two of his paintings. Matisse began with painting still-life’s and was greatly influenced early on by the work of the Impressionists; he experimented with many techniques including pointillism. He had his first solo exhibition in 1904, which was also the same year he met Pablo Picasso and became lifelong friends with the Spanish artist. In 1905, Matisse exhibited with a group of “Fauves” artists.

Matisse’s top painting period is considered to be the years between 1906 and 1917, in which he painted some of his best known works of art; including Madras Rouge (1908) and The Danse (1909). Matisse was always known for his stunning colors.

In 1941, Matisse became wheelchair-bound after undergoing a colostomy but continued to paint. His daughter was active in the French Resistance during World War II and was briefly held at a Nazi concentration camp. Matisse himself was totally non-political. In 1952, he opened a museum for his works in his hometown.

In later years, when painting became difficult for Matisse, he turned to paper cut-outs. In 1947, he published a folder featuring many of his cut-outs called Jazz. It featured many of his cut-outs plus handwritten text by the artist.

Originally, Jazz was 24 x 12 inches in size and unbound, the pages were folded. In order to create the prints for the book, Matisse painted paper with gouache and cut out a shape he wanted to. He then would lay it out on another piece of gouache painted paper. Assistants would then prepare it for printing.

Most of the cut-outs in Jazz feature theatrical or circus themes. The most famous and what is usually used as the cover, was Icarus based on the myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun.

There were only 250 copies of Jazz made originally and some are housed in places such as The Victoria and Albert Museum in London and at Indiana University. They have not held up that well to the passage of time.

Jazz is still available in book form.

Henri Matisse died of a heart on November 3, 1954. He, along with Pablo Picasso, is considered by many to be the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Quotes by Matisse

An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

An artist must possess Nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.

Creativity takes courage.

Cutting into color reminds me of the sculptor's direct carving.

Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.

Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.

Exactitude is not truth.

He who loves, flies, runs, and rejoices; he is free and nothing holds him back.

I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.

I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.

I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things.

Madras Rouge 1907

The artist's wife
The artist's wife

Desert Harmony in Red, 1908

La Danse, 1909

Large Red Interior 1948


Submit a Comment

  • quilt827 profile image


    6 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

    Thanks for an interesting hub. I've always loved his bold colors,but ambivilant about his style, nice to have another look.

    "I don't paint things. I paint the difference between things" for thought!

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    witch artists was henri matisse friends with?

  • bonny2010 profile image

    bonetta hartig 

    8 years ago from outback queensland

    Like your hub iam not a fan of Matisse but I enjoy what you wrote and it made me have a second look at some of his work . thanks for the read.

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    8 years ago from East Coast, United States

    I love Matisse and have always thought it would be so cool to decorate a room based on one of his interiors. One of these days....

  • waynet profile image

    Wayne Tully 

    8 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

    Great hubpage about a much celebrated artist, I remember in art collecge doing studies of some of his work and we had to recreate different works with pastels and pencil crayons, it was a brilliant exercise and one that I enjoyed.


  • Georzetta profile image

    Georzetta Ratcliffe 

    8 years ago from Pennsylvania

    Such an artist! I've had some of his cutouts hanging in my house for years (prints only, of course).

  • fishtiger58 profile image


    8 years ago from Momence, Illinois

    The La Danse is my favorite. I envy those who can paint. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. Thanks for a great read.

  • profile image

    Nancy's Niche 

    8 years ago

    Wonderful article on an artist who's work I really enjoy.

  • Mike Lickteig profile image

    Mike Lickteig 

    8 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

    I've always loved the work of Matisse. The semi-crude brush stroke combined with an amazing elegance to produce something completely unique. An amazing painter!!!!!

    Thanks for publishing this, I think I'll get out my art books on Matisse and browse them for awhile.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    luv his colors...

  • Uninvited Writer profile imageAUTHOR

    Susan Keeping 

    8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    So many artists in the 19th and early 20th century seemed to get their models pregnant...especially in France it seems :)

  • pearlgearl profile image


    8 years ago

    That is interesting that Matisse had a child with his model. Did you know that there was a time that being an artists model was the lowest of low jobs? Worse than prostitution! On a different note, didn't Matisse also paint the Icarus? That one painting inspired by the mythological boy who made wings out of wax and feathers then flew to close to the sun?

  • Uninvited Writer profile imageAUTHOR

    Susan Keeping 

    8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

    Thanks for the comments. Glad you like the paintings, I enjoyed choosing which ones to use.

  • kartika damon profile image

    kartika damon 

    8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

    I love Matisse! I love these quotes and this hub brought so much joy. Made me want to paint again!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    8 years ago from Washington

    I love it! The danse is great - I just wouldn't want to do an 'old age' version...yikes - might be kind of humorous though...I like creativity takes courage and yes it does. The paintings are so beautiful and you can actually 'get them' which is my favorite without making something up that you are seeing....Audrey

  • blue dog profile image

    blue dog 

    8 years ago from texas hill country

    hey uw,

    great job - i love the quotes, especially illuminating the fog.

    of course, admiration of the art goes without saying. have always loved icarus. very inspiring for a wednesday evening.

  • Hmrjmr1 profile image


    8 years ago from Georgia, USA

    Well Done UW, particularly like the danse, (should post it in the forums eh?) LOL :D :D


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