Henri Matisse, painter and French modern artist

French painter Henri Matisse is best known for his paintings and collages, and as the founder of Fauvism, a style of painting that focused on using color to express emotion, rather than represent the actual/natural colors of the subject of the painting. Matisse’s fame and significance in modern art is probably only matched by his good friend and rival, Pablo Picasso.

Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France, and was raised in Bohain-en-Vermandois, where his family owned a seed business. Matisse never painted until he was twenty, and only because his mother bought him a set of paints to keep him occupied during his recovery from appendicitis. Until that incident, Matisse was on track to study law, but soon switched to art, enrolling in the Académie Julian in 1891.

In 1905, Matisse and several other artists (including André Derain and Georges Braque) exhibited a style of painting that used color wildly and unrealistically, earning them the title of ‘wild beasts’ – Fauves – and starting the Fauvist movement. The Fauvist movement lasted less than a year, and Matisse moved on to produce his most significant works.

Around the time of Fauvism, Matisse also met Pablo Picasso, and struck up a friendship and rivalry with him that lasted until Matisse’s death. Their work is often compared, and major museums have exhibited joint retrospectives (including New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2003).

In 1941, Matisse was diagnosed with cancer, and although he survived surgery and treatment, he was much weaker and was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. It was during this time when he began making collages – what he referred to as ‘painting with scissors’, and continued to work until his death in 1954 of a heart attack.

A Matisse museum was opened in 1963 in Cimiez.

Some of his famous works:

Portrait of Madame Matisse (1905) – The shapes and lines clearly represent a woman, but the colors are not of this world. So what was Matisse saying about his wife? (photo is copyright - see it HERE)

La Danse (1909) – His famously evocative work of a ring of nude dancers. The feeling provoked is more real than a pure realistic representation of the scene. (photo is copyright - see it HERE)


Icarus (1947) – One of his paper cut out works, inspired by jazz. Dreamy, stark, almost musical. At the age of 78, Matisse was still as sharp an artist as ever. (photo is copyright - see it HERE)