Interesting Facts about Henri Matisse, the Extraordinary French Artist

Who was Matisse? Henri Emile Benoit Matisse (1869-1954) is widely regarded as one of the most influential and revolutionary artists of the 20th century, alongside the likes of Pablo Picasso. Henri Matisse was the founding member of the movement called Fauvism, which is when he really came to prominence, but he initially emerged as a Post-Impressionist.

What Is Henri Matisse Known for

Henri Matisse’s techniques and artworks were intriguing, unorthodox, and groundbreaking. Henri Matisse is renowned for his original, fluid craftsmanship, albeit inspired by the influences he admired, and his bold use of color. His works challenge viewers, especially his contemporaries, making them question their preconceived notions of art. 

The visual artist experimented with different styles, media, and movements, helping shape colorism and influencing modern art significantly. This is true for all of Henri Matisse’s periods.

But what else do we know about Henri Matisse? Herein is a look at some interesting aspects about the extraordinary French artist, and the factors and contemporaries that influenced his path. 

An Uneasy Relationship with Pablo Picasso

Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso met in April 1906 at the Paris salon of American art collector and novelist Gertrude Stein. Stein supported the careers of both artists, who were not fond of each other at the start. While the two artists were always critical of each other’s work, they developed a lifelong friendship. 

Matisse and Picasso were rivals during this friendship, and the two are often compared. One similarity you can notice between the two artists is that the subjects of their paintings were frequently still lifes and women. A key difference is that Matisse largely got the inspiration for his paintings and drawings from the natural world, while Picasso often worked from his imagination. 

Despite their uneasy relationship, Matisse always respected Picasso’s work and could see his unique talent. Picasso also felts the same way. Over time, the two great artists worked together on the same subjects and titles.

What Is Henri Matisse Known for?

Henri Matisse was the leader of which artistic movement called Fauvism, named after the French term for wild beasts. To this day, he is its most famous moniker, and is often referred to as the father of Fauvism. Fauvism was a short-lived art style and movement that began at the turn of the 20th century and which brough to life striking figure paintings and bright cheery landscapes. This can be readily seen in Henri Matisse’s most famous paintings.

Unlike the vague and disturbing Symbolism, this avant-garde art movement emphasized strong use of vidid colors and painterly qualities over realistic or representational values. For Matisse and le Fauves, as they were known, colors didn’t hold the obvious meaning that people would assume. 

For example, the artist stated that when he used blue, it did not represent the sky, nor did green represent grass. Strident use of powerful colors and wild, rough and abrupt brushstrokes characterized the art style, and the subject matter was highly simplified and abstract. Matisse and Andre Derain, his friend and rival, were recognized as the movement’s leaders at the height of its popularity between 1904 and 1910.

Where Was Henri Matisse Born?

While he was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis 1869 and grew up in Bohain-en-Vermandois in the Picardie region, Matisse moved to Paris in 1887 to study law. Most people would not associate the study of law with Henri Matisse. But the artist didn’t always have his mind and heart set on art.

A Career Change that Helped Shape Art History

Matisse was originally going to study law, and he briefly did. He passed the bar with distinction and worked as a court administrator in Le Cateau-Cambresis. But Matisse’s stint as a court administrator would be short-lived.

Henri Matisse’s father, a wealthy grain merchant, wanted the young man to take over their family grain business, something the artist had no interest in. Matisse loved art and attended morning drawing classes before heading to court. He began painting in 1889, something that greatly disappointed his father.

It was an illness that ultimately led to Henri Matisse changing careers. Matisse started painting as he recovered after an appendicitis attack when he was 20 years old. His mother, Anna Heloise, would bring him art supplies during this time since he had attended art school. 

After he recovered, Matisse decided to become a fully-fledged artist, displeasing his father. Matisse stated that he loved the freedom brought forth by art. He would later describe it as “a kind of paradise.” He returned to Paris in 1891 to study art at the Academe Julian and Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts and follow his newly found passion, and the rest is history.

Van Gogh and Colors

Bold, bright colors are a trademark aspect of Matisse’s paintings. Matisse’s art style is largely influenced by an encounter with Australian painter John Russell. While studying art in 1896, Matisse visited Russell on the Island Belle Ile, where he was introduced to impressionism and Vincent van Gogh’s work. 

Russell gave Matisse a Van Gogh drawing, and from this moment, Matisse’s art style changed. The artists shifted from earth-colored palettes to bright colors. Matisse later stated that Russell was his art teacher, explained color theory, and profoundly influenced his signature style.

Trouble with the Nazis

During WW2, Hitler sought to eradicate modern art in an effort to overhaul the cultural fabric of the nations he invaded. Many paintings that the Nazis deemed irrational or depraved were hauled out of museums, destroyed, or sold to raise foreign currency and fund the war machine. Matisse’s works, especially those influenced by the fauvist movement, clashed with the Nazi’s ideals of proper artwork.

As such, the works were at serious risk. One such painting was Bathers With A Turtle, which survived a cheap sale thanks to the intervention of Joseph Pulitzer Jr. In 1939, Pulitzer encountered one of the auctions in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was able to rescue Matisse’s painting after consulting with Matisse’s son Pierre Matisse.

Henri Matisse and African Art

Henri Matisse loved African art and even had a collection of African artwork. Matisse visited Morocco back in 1911, setting up an art studio in Tangier. He worked on 24 paintings and some drawings during his stay in Morocco, which lasted about seven months. 

Matisse introduced his rival and friend, Pablo Picasso, to African art. Picasso would proceed to incorporate elements of African art into his works. An example of this influence is Cubism, which featured prominently in Picasso’s art and influenced modern European art. Matisse also learned about Primitivism while visiting Algeria and Moorish art in Spain.

Finding Inspiration in Jazz and Nature

Henri Matisse stated that he loved Jazz because of its deep meaning and rhythm. In 1947, he created colorful paper-cut collages, which he named Jazz. The artist stated that his works and jazz music had many similarities. Both Jazz and his art were a testament to human imagination, creativity, and proclivity for improvisation.

But Matisse also played the violin and reflected on the precise technique and structure of the music, which he felt complimented his own artistic methods. 

Also, Matisse loved animals and nature, which inspired many of his paintings. The artists had three cats and pet doves. His pets feature in his paintings, and he was always in their company as he painted in old age.