Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was a French artist, known for his use of color 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 and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening years of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. Although he was initially associated with the Fauvism and Cubism movements, Matisse is best known as the leader of a group of French artists known as Les Nabis. He was a major collector of African art.
Henri Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a small town in the Nord department in northern France, on 31 December 1869. His father, Emile Auguste Matisse, was a grain merchant. His mother, Anna Henriette and his older sister Marguerite were born within 15 months of each other, followed by two younger sisters, Marie and Jeanne. In 1887 he began studying law at the University of Paris, but his interest in art led him to abandon his studies and become a full-time artist.
Matisse’s early paintings are often heavy with somber colors and show the influence of the realist painter Eugène Delacroix. In 1895, he visited the painter Antonin Proust, who introduced him to painting in a lighter palette. This had an immediate effect on Matisse’s painting, and his work began to display greater color contrast and lightened tone.
In 1896, Matisse exhibited six paintings in the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, two of which were purchased by the state. The critical reaction was mixed; some critics praised the work for its use of color, while others condemned it as too avant-garde.
In 1900, Matisse moved to Paris, where he shared an apartment with Albert Marquet. He began to frequent the circle of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Juan Gris. Picasso’s 1901 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon caused a scandal when it was exhibited that year, and was seen as heralding the start of a new and influential period in modern art: Cubism.
Matisse’s work began to show the influence of Cubism from 1908 onwards, and he was one of the major figures in the development of this style. His painting La Danse (The Dance) was completed in 1910, and is often seen as an important early work of modern art.
In 1917, Matisse relocated to Nice on the French Riviera, where he bought a large villa. He frequently visited Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia on painting trips, and his work began to reflect the influence of these cultures. His use of color became increasingly bold, and his style more fluid and original.
Matisse continued to develop his distinctive style throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, he suffered from ill health, and his work became more subdued in palette and form. He died in 1954, at the age of 84.
Matisse was a highly influential artist, both within the artistic movements with which he is associated and on 20th-century art as a whole. His work was instrumental in the development of both Fauvism and Cubism, and has exerted a significant impact on subsequent artists. Matisse is commonly regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 20th century.