The 10 Most Famous Artworks of Henri Matisse
From La Danse to The Joy of Life to The Red Studio...
Henri Émile Benoît Matisse was a French artist, known for both his use of colour 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, as one of the artists who best helped to define the revolutionary developments in the visual arts throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.
His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art.
niood lists the 10 Most Famous Artworks of Henri Matisse:
Matisse created Dance (I) as a study for a painting commissioned by the Russian businessman and arts patron Sergei Shchukin. The final work and its pendant painting, *Music( (both completed in 1910), are housed in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Dance (I) marks a moment in Matisse’s career when he embraced a reductive approach to painting, seeking the expressive potentials of fundamental elements: line, color, and form.
This daring approach was influenced by the increasing sophistication of photographic technology. In 1909 the artist observed, “The painter no longer has to preoccupy himself with details. The photograph is there to render the multitude of details a hundred times better and more quickly. Plastic form will present emotion as directly as possible and by the simplest means.” Across this monumental canvas Matisse used only four naturalistic colors: blue for the sky, green for the ground, and black and pale pink in rendering the five figures. Although he made adjustments to the composition, Matisse’s final lines convey a remarkable fluidity and sense of dynamic movement in their economical application—in the sweeping curve along the front side of the left figure, for example, and along the outstretched arms of the dancers as they come together in an unhampered expression of joy.
During his Fauve years Matisse often painted landscapes in the south of France during the summer and worked up ideas developed there into larger compositions upon his return to Paris. Joy of Live, the second of his important imaginary compositions, is typical of these. He used a landscape he had painted in Collioure to provide the setting for the idyll, but it is also influenced by ideas drawn from Watteau, Poussin, Japanese woodcuts, Persian miniatures, and 19th century Orientalist images of harems. The scene is made up of independent motifs arranged to form a complete composition. The massive painting and its shocking colors received mixed reviews at the Salon des Indépendants. Critics noted its new style — broad fields of color and linear figures, a clear rejection of Paul Signac’s celebrated Pointillism.
“Where I got the color red—to be sure, I just don’t know,” Matisse once remarked. “I find that all these things . . . only become what they are to me when I see them together with the color red.” This painting features a small retrospective of Matisse’s recent painting, sculpture, and ceramics, displayed in his studio. The artworks appear in color and in detail, while the room’s architecture and furnishings are indicated only by negative gaps in the red surface. The composition’s central axis is a grandfather clock without hands—it is as if, in the oasis of the artist’s studio, time were suspended.
The Blue Nudes is a series of color lithographs by Henri Matisse made from cut-outs depicting nude figures in various positions. Restricted by his physical condition after his surgery for stomach cancer, Matisse began creating art by cutting and painting sheets of paper by hand and supervised the creation of the lithographs until his death in 1954.
Blue Nude IV, the first of the four nudes, took a notebook of studies and two weeks’ work of cutting-and-arranging before the resulting artefact satisfied him. In the event, Matisse finally arrived at his favorite pose, for all four works—intertwining legs and an arm stretching behind the neck. The posture of the nude woman is like the posture of a number of seated nudes made in the first years of the 1920s, ultimately, the posture derives from the reposed figures of Le bonheur de vivre. The second in the series, Blue Nude II, was completed in 1952.
Despite the flatness of paper, the cut-outs reflect Matisse’s earlier sculptures in their tangible, relief-like quality, especially the sense of volume created by the overlapping of the cut-outs. Blue Nude I, in particular, can be compared with sculptures such as La Serpentine, from 1909.
The color blue signified distance and volume to Matisse. Frustrated in his attempts to successfully marry dominant and contrasting tones, the artist was moved to use solid slabs of single color early in his career, a technique that became known as Fauvism. The painted gouache cut-outs that compose the Blue Nudes were inspired by Matisse’s collection of African sculpture and his visit to Tahiti, in 1930. He required another twenty years and a post-operative period of incapacity, before Matisse synthesized those African and Polynesian influences into this seminal series.
The 8-foot by 12-foot Bathers by a River combines an extreme of abstraction with readable figurative images. Over years, Matisse changes it from a lightweight pastel-colored beach scene to an exotic Eden, a gigantic icon with four female demigoddesses outlined against a row of broad flat vertical panels, with a sinister – or is it benign? – white snake rearing up its head from the bottom of the canvas. We feel something intensely symbolic, but Matisse doesn’t feel the need to explain the iconography.
Matisse made this painting in the south of France, in the town of Saint-Tropez, while vacationing with family and friends. He created the forms in the painting—the human figures, tree, bush, sea, and sky—from spots of color applied with quick, firm, repeating brushstrokes with which he built up the picture. Matisse favored discrete strokes of color that emphasized the painted surface over the naturalistic portrayal of a scene. He also used a palette of pure, high-tone primary colors to render the landscape, and outlined the figures in blue. The painting takes its title, which means “Richness, calm, and pleasure,” from a line by the 19th-century poet Charles Baudelaire, and it shares the poem’s subject: escape to an imaginary, tranquil refuge.
Matisse, who was uninterested in conflict and politics, once said, “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter.” The balance and serenity he strove for in this early painting would remain consistent in his work for the rest of his career.
Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure is an icon of early modernism. A small but explosive work, it is celebrated as one of the most important early paintings of the so-called fauve school, a group of artists, including André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Georges Braque, that emerged in 1904. Fauve paintings are distinguished by a startling palette of saturated, unmixed colors and broad brushstrokes. The effect is one of spontaneity, although the works reveal a calculated assimilation of techniques from postimpressionism and neo-impressionism. Open Window represents the very inception of the new manner in Matisse’s art. It was painted in Collioure, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of France to which Matisse traveled with Derain in the summer of 1905.
Lydia Delectorskaya, Matisse’s model for Woman in a Purple Coat and nurse in his final years, fled to France from Russia during the 1917 revolution. Unlike Matisse’s other models, she had long blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Matisse said she had “The look of an ice princess.”
When their paths crossed in Nice, France, Matisse was a well-known artist. He reportedly never asked Lydia to pose nude, which she appreciated. During a brief conflict with Matisse’s wife in which she accused Matisse having an affair with Lydia, the model was fired. However, when his Amélie left him shortly afterwards, Matisse rehired Lydia as an assistant in his studio.
The vivid, purple coat with the black outline makes the woman rise out off the chaise longue. This also gives the piece a three dimensional aspect, as if Lydia could stand up and walk away at any moment. Said to be modelling an exotic Moroccan costume, Lydia is wearing a purple coat, a statement yellow necklace and pointed blue shoes. She rests on a sumptuous yellow pillow or blanket and beneath her coat she wears a more European looking white blouse and green skirt.
First exhibited at the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris, Women with a Hat (Femme au chapeau) was at the center of the controversy that led to the christening of the first modern art movement of the twentieth century – Fauvism. The term fauve (“wild beast”), coined by an art critic, became forever associated with the artists who exhibited their brightly colored canvases in the central gallery (dubbed the cage centrale) of the Grand Palais.
Femme au chapeau marked a stylistic change from the regulated brushstrokes of Matisse’s earlier work to a more expressive individual style. His use of non-naturalistic colors and loose brushwork, which contributed to a sketchy or “unfinished” quality, seemed shocking to the viewers of the day.
The artist’s wife, Amélie, posed for this half-length portrait. She is depicted in an elaborate outfit with classic attributes of the French bourgeoisie: a gloved arm holding a fan and an elaborate hat perched atop her head. Her costume’s vibrant hues are purely expressive, however; when asked about the hue of the dress Madame Matisse was actually wearing when she posed for the portrait, the artist allegedly replied, “Black, of course.”
Of Matisse’s several still-life subjects, few were more productive than that of goldfish. They occupy a position in his work of the early teens analogous to that of the reclining odalisque in the twenties. The languorous, fluid bodies of these two motifs provoked, however, rather different pictorial results, given the successive stages of his development. This iconographic association is made explicit. And on the level of the unconscious, may we not see in this theme – the contrast between an aqueous and an atmospheric world – a marginal development of the motif of the Venus Anadyomene that is obvious in both versions of Le Luxe?