Henri Matisse | 10 Facts On The Famous French Artist


Henri Matisse was a French artist whose work brought about revolutionary developments in art in twentieth century due to which he is regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern art. Matisse is famous for being the leader of the art movement Fauvism and for inventing a new medium in art known as paper cut-outs. He was also a print-maker and sculptor but is most known for his paintings. Matisse had a happening life. He accidentally developed interest in painting; was initially belittled by critics; was involved in one of the most famous rivalries in the history of art, with Pablo Picasso; and his muse attempted suicide after his wife suspected Matisse of having an affair with her. Know about the life, family, career, works and achievements of Henri Matisse through these 10 interesting facts.


#1 Henri Matisse was born on New Year’s Eve

Henri Emile Benoît Matisse was born at eight o’clock at night on 31st December 1869 in the commune of Le Cateau-Cambrésis in northern France. He was the first child of Emile Hippolyte Henri Matisse and his wife Anna Héloïse Gérard. A second son, named Emile Auguste, was born to the couple in July 1872 but he died before his second birthday. Their third and last child, Auguste Emile, was born on 19 July 1874. Hippolyte Matisse opened a shop soon after Henri’s birth and ultimately became a prosperous grain merchant. Anna Gerard provided strong support to her husband and her two sons through her life. She came from a family of tanners and ran the section of her husband’s shop that sold house-paints.

Emile Hippolyte Matisse and Anna Heloise Gerard
Parents of Henri Matisse – Emile Hippolyte Matisse and Anna Heloise Gerard


#2 He realized his love for art while recovering from appendicitis

Henri Matisse in 1896
Henri Matisse in 1896

From 1882 to 1887, Henri Matisse studied in Saint-Quentin, first at College de Saint-Quentin and then at Lycee Henri- Martin. In 1887, he went to Paris to study law. He passed his law examinations in 1888 and the following year began to work as a clerk in a law office in Saint-Quentin. In 1889, Matisse suffered from a severe attack of appendicitis. While recovering, he began to paint with the art supplies that his mother had brought for him to pass time. This was when Matisse realized his true calling and two years later, in 1891, he moved to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian. Dissatisfied with its perfectionist style, he left the academy to become a student of the famous French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau.

#3 He was most inspired by the art of Paul Cezanne

Matisse began his art career painting still lifes and landscapes in traditional style. In 1897, he visited Australian painter John Peter Russell who introduced him to Impressionism and to the work of, the now famous Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh. Matisse’s style changed radically and he would later say “Russell was my teacher and Russell explained color theory to me.” Around this time Matisse also met veteran Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro, on whose advice he went to London to study the paintings of great British landscape artist J. M. W. Turner. Matisse was also influenced by renowned French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne; and Paul Signac, famous for developing the art technique known as Pointillism. Matisse later said, “In modern art, it is indubitably to Cézanne that I owe the most.”


#4 Henri Matisse was the founder and leader of the art movement Fauvism

Henri Matisse, along with a group of artists, exhibited at the Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris in 1905. After seeing the bold and non-naturalistic use of color in the canvases displayed, the critic Louis Vauxcelles belittled the group as “fauves” (wild beasts). This gave name to the art movement Fauvism. Though it lasted for a brief period, from 1904 to 1908, Fauvism was the first of the important modern art movements of the twentieth century, which moved away from representational elements. Along with André Derain, Henri Matisse was co-founder of the movement and the most prominent leader of the Fauves.

Le bonheur de vivre (1906) - Henri Matisse
Le bonheur de vivre (1906) – Painting by Henri Matisse which is considered the greatest masterpiece in Fauvism


#5 His painting Blue Nude was burned in effigy at the Armory Show

Henri Matisse created artworks in several mediums including printmaking and sculpture. He was working on a sculpture when it shattered accidentally and the broken pieces inspired him to create one of the most controversial works of his career, Blue Nude (Nu bleu). When Nu blue was first displayed in 1907 at the Société des Artistes Indépendants, it shocked the French public. The painting later created an international sensation when its effigy was burned in 1913 at the Armory Show in Chicago. Blue Nude is now considered a pivotal work of Matisse’s career. It would later inspire Pablo Picasso to create one of his most renowned masterpieces, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon).



#6 Matisse’s rivalry with Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous in art history

Around March 1906, Henri Matisse was introduced to Pablo Picasso by the famous art collector Gertrude Stein. Their personalities were remarkably different and Matisse said that they were, “As different as the north pole is from the south pole. However he had a lifelong rivalry and friendship with Picasso. Their works were a source of inspiration to each other and Picasso said, no one has ever looked at Matisse’s painting more carefully than I; and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he. The rivalry between their supporters, the Picassoites and the Matisseites, was bitter. But though they were known to have intense arguments, Matisse and Picasso had a close relationship and they excelled on each other’s brilliance.

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso had a famous rivalry with Matisse


#7 His model attempted suicide after his wife suspected him of having an affair with her

Matisse had a relationship with model Caroline Joblau and they had a daughter named Marguerite in 1894. In 1898, Henri Matisse married Amélie Noellie Parayre. The couple raised Marguerite and had two sons, Jean in 1899 and Pierre in 1900. Amélie and later Marguerite served as models for Matisse. Amelie also acted as his personal manager. In 1932, a 22-year old woman named Lydia Delectorskaya was employed by Amelie to assist her husband. Lydia soon became Matisse’s muse. Amelie asked Matisse to choose between them and he picked his wife. Agonized, Lydia attempted suicide by shooting herself in the chest but she fortunately survived. Amélie divorced Matisse in July 1939 ending their 41 year old marriage. Lydia returned to Matisse and worked for him for the rest of his life, acting as his manager and taking care of his household.

Henri Matisse with his wife Amelie
Henri Matisse with wife Amelie in 1913


#8 His daughter was tortured by the Gestapo and sentenced to a concentration camp

During World War II, when the Nazis occupied France in 1940, Matisse remained in his country despite his son Pierre urging him to flee before the invasion. He wrote to his son in September, 1940. “If everyone who has any value leaves France, what remains of France?” Matisse’s daughter Marguerite was active in the French Resistance against German occupation. In 1944, she was tortured, almost to death, by the Gestapo in a Rennes prison and sentenced to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. However, an Allied bombing raid stopped the train which was carrying her to Ravensbrück and Marguerite managed to escape to safety. When the news of her escape reached the agonized Henri Matisse, he declared it a ‘miracle’.

Portrait of Marguerite by Henri Matisse
Portrait of Marguerite by Henri Matisse


#9 Matisse invented a new medium famous as the paper cut-out

In 1919, while designing a decor for the opera Le chant du rossignol, Matisse first used a technique to cut forms from colored paper and arrange it as collages. In 1941, Matisse was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. He underwent surgery that left him chair and bed bound. Unable to paint or sculpt, he turned to the medium he had rarely used, and began creating cut paper collages, or decoupage.  The works he produced, accompanied by his written thoughts, were published in 1947 as the book Jazz. Popularly known as the “cut-outs”, Matisse’s work in this new medium is considered his final artistic triumph. He finished his last sculpture in 1950 and his final painting the following year with paper cut-out being his sole medium of expression till his death.

La Negresse (1952) - Henri Matisse
La Negresse (1952) – Paper cutout by Henri Matisse


#10 He is regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern art

Henri Matisse died of a heart attack on 3rd November 1954 in Nice, France, at the age of 84 years. He was buried at the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez. His youngest son Pierre Matisse opened an influential art gallery called The Pierre Matisse Gallery. His grandson, Paul Matisse, became a well-known artist and so did his great-granddaughter, Sophie Matisse. Henri Matisse is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and a leading figure of modern art who was responsible for revolutionary artistic developments in the first half of the century. He is most known for his mastery in the use of colors due to which he is considered one of the greatest colorists in the history of painting.

Tombstone of Henri Matisse
Tombstone of Henri Matisse and his wife, Cimiez, France


Dove of Peace

Henri Matisse had a great love for birds. Once while walking around the banks of the river Seine, he bought five or six birds from a merchant. He delighted in their shapes and colors, plumage and singing. Nearing the end of his life, Matisse gave Picasso, who also loved birds, the last of his fancy pigeons. As Picasso’s painting Guernica was hailed as one of the world’s most moving anti-war paintings, he was invited to design an image to represent peace. Picasso drew a picture of Matisse’s pigeon and thus the famous poster Dove of Peace was created. It was chosen as the emblem for the First International Peace Conference in 1949.

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