10 Most Famous Paintings by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) was a French artist who worked in a variety of media including sculpture and paper cut-outs but is most famous for the masterpieces he created as a painter. Along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, he is considered one of the most influential figures of modern art whose works brought about revolutionary developments in the art world. He is considered the greatest colorist of the twentieth century and is most known for his works in Fauvism, an influential art movement of which he was the leading figure. Here are the 10 most famous paintings of Henri Matisse.

#10 Woman in a Purple Coat

Woman in a Purple Coat (1937) - Henri Matisse
Woman in a Purple Coat (1937)
French Title:Femme au manteau violet
Location:Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, U.S.

This is a portrait of Lydia Delectorskaya who was Matisse’s muse and companion in his later life. Amélie Noellie Parayre, the wife of Henri Matisse, suspected an affair between the two leading to her separating from her husband. In the painting, the artist depicts Lydia in an exotic Moroccan costume, surrounded by a complex of abstract design and exotic color. Woman in a Purple Coat is among the most renowned works in the final groups of oil paintings in Matisse’s career, after which he quit painting in favor of creating paper cut-outs.

#9 The Open Window

The Open Window, Collioure (1905) - Henri Matisse
The Open Window, Collioure (1905)
French Title:La Fenêtre ouverte
Location:National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., U.S.

Henri Matisse was the most prominent leader of the short lived but influential art movement Fauvism, which was characterized by vivid expressionistic and non-naturalistic use of color. This painting depicts the view out of the window of the apartment of Matisse in Collioure, on the southern coast of France. In it, he represents the interior of the room, the window itself, the balcony and the harbor view, with a distinctly different handling of the brush. The Open Window is one of Matisse’s most famous paintings in Fauvism and it is considered an iconic work of early modernism.

#8 Goldfish and Palette

Goldfish and Palette (1914) - Henri Matisse
Goldfish and Palette (1914)
French Title:Poissons rouges et palette
Location:Museum of Modern Art, New York City, U.S.

During his visit to Morocco in 1912, Matisse noticed that local population, after getting high on opium, would day dream for hours staring at goldfish bowls. When he returned to Paris he installed a goldfish bowl in his studio. Goldfish appear in 9 of his paintings and this is the most famous among them. Matisse initially sketched himself, holding a rectangular palette, just as Paul Cézanne did in an 1885 self-portrait. However, all that remains of him in the final painting is his thumb on the palette. Goldfish and Palette shared a secret link with Picasso’s 1915 Harlequin, which is now interpreted as a barely perceptible self-portrait on a rectilinear canvas his Harlequin alter ego is clutching. Matisse and Picasso, who were close friends as well as arch-rivals, revered Cezanne.

#7 Luxury, Calm and Pleasure

Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904) - Henri Matisse
Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904)
French Title:Luxe, Calme et Volupté
Location:Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Divisionism was the characteristic style in Neo-Impressionist painting defined by the separation of colors into individual dots or patches which interacted optically. It was pioneered by Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. This painting, which is probably based on the view from Signac’s house in Saint-Tropez, uses the Divisionist technique. Luxe, Calme et Volupté is the most famous painting of Matisse in the Neo-Impressionist style. The following year he abandoned the style and became one of the pioneers of Fauvism.

#6 Woman with a Hat

Woman with a Hat (1905) - Henri Matisse
Woman with a Hat (1905)
French Title:Femme au chapeau
Location:SFMOMA, San Francisco, California, U.S.

In 1905, Henri Matisse, along with a group of artists, exhibited his work at the Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris. The critic Louis Vauxcelles belittled the group as “fauves” (wild beasts) thus giving the name to the influential art movement, Fauvism. This portrait of Matisse’s wife, Amélie Noellie Parayre, was at the center of the controversy. Its loose brushwork; unfinished quality; and vivid, non-naturalistic colors shocked the public and the critics. Woman with a Hat went on to become one of the most renowned masterpieces of Henri Matisse.

#5 Bathers by a River

Bathers by a River (1917) - Henri Matisse
Bathers by a River (1917)
French Title:Les demoiselles à la rivière
Location:Art Institute of Chicago, U.S.

Henri Matisse considered this painting as one of the most important of his career. He worked on it at intervals over 8 years and it passed through a variety of transformations which reflect his new interest in Cubism, an art style he had rejected. With its restricted palette and severely abstracted forms, Bathers by a River is strikingly different from most of the other works of Matisse. It is much analyzed and has been a subject of intense scrutiny. That it was painted during the years of World War I adds to the interest in the painting.

#4 Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra)

Blue Nude (1907)
Blue Nude (1907)
French Title:Nu bleu, Souvenir de Biskra
Location:Baltimore Museum of Art, U.S.

Matisse was working on a sculpture when it shattered accidently and the broken pieces inspired him to create the most controversial work of his career, Blue Nude. When it 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. Nu bleu is now considered a pivotal work of Matisse’s career. It inspired Pablo Picasso to create one of his most renowned masterpieces, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon).

#3 The Red Studio

The Red Studio (1911) - Henri Matisse
The Red Studio (1911)
French Title:L’Atelier Rouge
Location:Museum of Modern Art, New York City, U.S.

This painting captures the workshop of Henri Matisse with paintings, sculptures and ceramics scattered around his studio. In it the artist has reduced the walls and floor to one continuous sheet of uniform red. Matisse remarked on the relevance of the color, “I find that all these things . . . only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red”. The Red Studio is considered a pivotal work in the history of art and it was ranked number five in a 2004 poll of 500 art experts for the most influential modern art work of all time.

#2 The Joy of Life

Le bonheur de vivre (1906) - Henri Matisse
The Joy of Life (1906)
French Title:Le bonheur de vivre
Location:Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, U.S.

The Joy of Life was regarded as the most radical painting of its day and it was the breakthrough work of Matisse. It depicts several nude women and men in a landscape drenched with vivid color. A group of dancing figures can be seen in the background. Matisse broke conventions of western painting in this artwork by using techniques like shifting perspectives leading to the painting being out of scale. There was much public outrage when the work was first displayed. However, Le bonheur de vivre is now considered the greatest masterpiece in Fauvism and as one of the pillars of early modernism.

#1 Dance

La Danse (1910)
La Danse (1910)
French Title:La Danse
Location:Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Along with Music, this painting was created as part of a two painting commission for Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin. It shows five dancing figures, painted in a strong red, against a simplified green landscape and deep blue sky. The painting exudes “primitive” energy and has been deliberatively painted in an unsophisticated and childish way. La Danse is considered a key point in the development of modern painting, remains hugely influential, and is the most famous work of Henri Matisse.

3 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Paintings by Henri Matisse”

  1. I first saw the Dance on a visit to the Hermitage more than twenty years ago.
    I was stunned by the size, colour and simplicity.
    It is what I still remember most from a wonderful holiday.


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