(Cateau-Cambrésis, 1869 - Nice, 1954)
The son of a grain merchant, Henri Matisse first 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 began modestly to draw. This first experience led him, in 1891, to settle in Paris in order to learn painting. His teachers were the academic painter Bouguereau, then Gustave Moreau, a painter 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 did 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 exhibited at the Salon d'Automne a portrait of his wife, La Femme au chapeau, which was a scandal. Gertrude Stein recounts: "The visitors giggled at the canvas, and we tried to slash it". However, although decried, the painter came out of anonymity and became the leader of a new avant-garde school.
From this event, he continued 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 gave him his success allowed him to make various trips, such as two visits to Morocco between 1912 and 1913, which greatly enriched his work.
Not mobilized during the war, Matisse was then 45 years old, he remained in Collioure, and 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 brought back photographs, sketches, but mostly souvenirs. It is only much later that he managed to integrate the Tahitian experience into his pictorial practice, namely through cut gouaches. From 1941, after a heavy surgical operation, this new process gave birth to his ultimate masterpieces, including Jazz in 1947, The Sadness of the King in 1952, and 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 summarized 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 had created a work that obeyed only one idea, the search for a balance of colors and forms, which he reached at the end of his life to impress upon matter, but as he insisted 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 characterized his work had 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 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 could 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 had thus crossed the major colorist currents of half a century of art history, divisionism, fauvism, abstraction, without getting lost.
He also travelled 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 had done in France in the sixties, his contemporaries drew on the freshness of Matisse's work as their source of inspiration.