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Henri Matisse 1869-1954 BACK


French painter. Until the advent of Cubism, he was the most influential painter in Paris, if not in Europe, and he remains one of the most important artists of the century. His emancipation of colour has an historical importance comparable to Cubism's role in releasing form from representation, and his Notes d'un peintre (1908) stated clearly for the 1st time several principles that lie behind later developments in 20th-century painting. He first studied law in Paris and worked as a lawyer's clerk at St Quentin. He started to draw and paint circa 1890 and in 1892 studied in Paris, first under Bouguereau at the Académie Julian, and then (1893-8) in Moreau's studio at the École des Beaux-Arts, where Marquet became his close friend and he met Rouault, Manguin and other future Fauves. His early independent works painted in Brittany (1896-8) were restrained objective interiors and still-lifes, reflecting his admiration for Chardin. In the late 1890s, under the influence of Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, he began to paint in heightened colour, but dissatisfied with Divisionism, he turned to Cézanne. Although poor at the time, he purchased from Vollard in 1899 the small Cézanne Bathers which later 'sustained me spiritually in the critical moments of my career as an artist'...

He worked in brilliant colour at Collioure (1905) with Derain and each painted a portrait of the other. Although his palette was somewhat subdued during the 1910s, e.g. Pond at Trivaux (c. 1916) or Painter and his Model (1916), he was as little touched by Cubism as Picasso was by Fauvism. He was deeply impressed by an exhibition of Near Eastern art in Munich (1910) and visited Morocco. His love of oriental fabrics and ceramics is reflected in the exotic decorative details and character of the great Odalisques of 1920-5. From 1917 he lived at Nice, with a visit to the U.S.A. and Tahiti in 1930-1. He worked on the chapel at Vence (1949-51); his other late works include the remarkable collages of cut-out, gouache-coloured paper shapes arranged in terms of expressive abstract rhythms, e.g. I'Escargot (1953).

excerpts taken from Thames and Hudson, Dictionary of Art and Artists



An excerpt from Matisse by Gerard Durozoi
In 1941, after his operation, Matisse had the idea of constructing some kind of edifice as a gesture of gratitude towards the Dominican sisters who had nursed him. But it was not until 1947 that the project resurfaced. One of his former models, who had since become Sister Jacques-Marie, showed him a sketch for a stained-glass window she had conceived for the extension of the Dominican chapel at nearby Foyer Lacordaire. Matisse offered his advice, but soon formulated his own ambitious plans for an entirely new building, with the aid of Frere Rayssiguier, a student-architect, and the architect Auguste Perret.

The chapel, constructed in 1952, occupied Matisse for more than three years. He decided to take charge of all aspects of its development, the elements of worship as well as the architecture and decoration, in order to ensure the unity of the whole. The building is simple: indeed, the overall whiteness of the exterior is emphasized by two ceramics bearing extremely sober black line drawings (a principle which recurs inside) evoking Saint Dominic and the Virgin and Child. The only intrusion of colour is reserved for the roof on which the blue and white tiles (traditional colours of the Virgin) seem to reflect the movement of clouds across the sky. On the italinate roof there is a wrought-iron arrow more than 12 metres long: 'it does not crush the chapel but, on the contrary, gives it a height. Because I created this arrow like a drawing a drawing I might do on a piece of paper - but this is a drawing that rises. When you see smoke rising from a cottage roof at the end of the day, and watch the smoke rising and rising ... you get the impression that it does not stop. This is a little like the impression I gave with my arrow.'




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Image List

Open Window, 1905

The Dessert: A Harmony in Red, 1908

Dance, 1910

Goldfish, 1912

Gate to the Kasbah, 1912

Seated Riffian, 1913

Hebrew Stories, 1924

Still Life on a Green Sideboard, 1928

Pink Nude, 1935

Purple Robe and Anemones, 1937

Rumanian Blouse, 1939

Thousand and One Nights, 1950

Blue Nude #2, 1952




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