(Cateau-Cambrésis, 1869 - Nice, 1954)
The son of a grain merchant, Henri Matisse began his studies as a lawyer and served as an attorney clerk at a notarial firm in Saint-Quentin, Aisne.
On the occasion of a convalescence, he begins modestly to draw. This first experience led him, in 1891, to settle in Paris to learn painting. His teachers are the academic painter Bouguereau, then Gustave Moreau, closer to contemporary avant-garde movements. He then discovered Impressionism, Turner, Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh ...
In 1904, after his meeting with Signac, the theorist of the divisionist method inaugurated by Seurat, he painted Luxe, Calm and Pleasure. But this painting does not satisfy him: "My dominant colors, supposed to be supported and highlighted by the contrasts, were in fact devoured by the contrasts, which I made as important as the dominant ones. This led me to paint in flat areas: it was fauvism. "
In 1905, Matisse exhibits at the Salon d'Automne a portrait of his wife, La Femme au chapeau, which is a scandal. Gertrude Stein recounts: "The visitors giggled at the canvas, and we tried to slash it. However, although decried, the painter comes out of anonymity and is the leader of a new avant-garde school.
From this event, he continues to exhibit and sell his paintings. In 1909, in particular, the rich Russian collector Shchukin commissioned two compositions, La Danse and La Musique. The material wealth that gives it its success allows him to make various trips, such as his two visits to Morocco between 1912 and 1913, which enrich his work.
Not mobilized during the war, Matisse was then 45 years old, he remained in Collioure, then moved to Nice, where, until the end of the 1920s, he worked almost exclusively on the theme of the female body.
In 1930, the search for another light and another space led him to undertake a long trip to Tahiti. From this island, he brings back photographs, sketches, but mostly souvenirs. It is only much later that he manages to integrate the Tahitian experience into his pictorial practice, through cut gouaches. From 1941 and after a heavy surgical operation, this new process gives birth to its ultimate masterpieces including Jazz in 1947, The Sadness of the King, 1952, or projects for the Chapel of Vence between 1948 and 1951.
In 1951, when he had just completed the last major project of his life, the chapel of the Rosary at Vence, Matisse summarizes in a few words nearly fifty years of work: "This chapel is for me the culmination of a whole working life and blooming a huge effort, sincere and difficult. "
The longevity of his activity is equivalent to that of Picasso, his contemporary, but unlike the latter, Matisse has created a work that obeys only one idea, the search for a balance of colors and forms, which he reaches at the end of his life to impress upon matter, but as he insists himself, not without effort.
We learn from Matisse that, from the first painting that points out in 1904, Luxury, calm and voluptuousness, in the chapel of Vence, the simplicity, the freshness, the obvious and immediately perceptible brilliance that characterize his work not seen the day without a long meditation.
To reconcile the color and the drawing thanks to the carved gouaches, he had to resort alternately to the sculpture and to the solid colors, that is to say to abstract the line of the color and vice versa, in order to circumscribe their respective power.
For "art and decoration" to be "one and the same thing", he questioned the architecture and perceived how painting can transfigure it.
Finally, for painting to become that "art of balance, purity, tranquility, without worrying or worrying subject, which is, for any brain worker, for the businessman as well as for the artist of the letters for example, a lenient, a cerebral calmant, something analogous to a good armchair that relaxes him from his physical fatigues. "As he said in 1908, Matisse followed his original intuition. He has thus crossed the major colorist currents of half a century of art history, divisionism, fauvism, abstraction, without getting lost.
He also had to travel a lot, in Brittany, in the south, open to the Orient by going to Morocco, see America and Oceania.
At the end of this odyssey in color and over the arabesque, Matisse became for the artists of the next generation, both in the United States and Europe, "the oasis Matisse" as Andre Masson said. The painters of American abstraction of the fifties and sixties, from Rothko to Kelly, from Sam Francis to Motherwell, like Hantaï and Viallat in France in the sixties, drew on the freshness of his work as their source of inspiration.