Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse was working on a sculpture, Reclining Nude I, when he accidentally damaged the piece. Before repairing it, he painted it in blue against a background of palm fronds. The nude is hard and angular, both a tribute to Cézanne and to the sculpture Matisse saw in Algeria. She is also a deliberate response to nudes seen in the Paris Salon — ugly and hard rather than soft and pretty. This was the last Matisse painting bought by Leo and Gertrude Stein.
Oil on canvas — The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection
The Moroccans (1915-16)
Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse planned this picture as early as 1913, and it recalls visits made to Morocco around this time. A figure sits on the right with a back to us, fruit lies in the left foreground, and a mosque rises in the background beyond a terrace. Matisse said that he occasionally used black in his pictures in order to simplify the composition, though here it undoubtedly also recalls the stark shadows produced by the strong sunshine in the region. Like Bathers by a River (1917), The Moroccans was significantly influenced by Picasso’s Cubism, and some have even compared it to Picasso’s Three Musicians (1921). Although it employs the same brilliant color as much of Matisse’s work, its use of abstract motifs and rigid diagrammatic composition is unusual, and has attracted considerable speculation. Rather than use the scene as an opportunity for decoration, it is as if Matisse has tried to find the means to chart and map it.
Oil on canvas — MoMA, New York
Bathers by a River (1917)
Artwork description & Analysis: Matisse regarded this picture as one of the most important in his career, and it is certainly one of his most puzzling. He worked on it at intervals over eight years, and it passed through a variety of transformations. The painting evolved out of a commission from Matisse’s Russian patron, Sergei Shchuckin, for two decorative panels on the subjects of dance and music, and, initially, the scheme for the picture resembled the idyllic scenes he had previously depicted in paintings such as Joy of Life (1905-06). However, his transformations gradually turned it into more of a confrontation with Cubism, and it is for this reason that the picture has been the subject of intense scrutiny. Although Matisse rejected Cubism, he certainly felt challenged by it, and this picture — along with many he painted from 1913 to 1917 — seems to be influenced by the style, since it is very unlike his previous, more decorative work. It is far more concerned with faithful representation of the structure of the human figure, and its position in space. The painting might be compared to The Backs series (1909-31), which also preoccupied Matisse the years he was working on Bathers, since both address the problem of depicting a three-dimensional figure against a flat background.
Oil on canvas — Art Institute of Chicago
Henri Matisse facts
1. Originally, Matisse studied and trained to become a lawyer.
He graduated from law school in Paris and worked as a clerk in a law office in 1889.
2. In 1889, at the age of 21, Matisse suffered from an acute appendicitis that would actually lead him to discover his passion for creating art.
After he underwent surgery, he had a very long recovery time. To ease his boredom, his mother gave him a paint box and the rest was history. After he recovered, he returned to work at the law office but found it difficult to give up his painting. Every morning before he went to work he attended drawing classes and was constantly painting during his lunch breaks and throughout the night. It consumed his life.
3. Matisse’s styles changed vastly at the beginning of his career after encounters with very famous artists.
At first, he was mainly painting landscapes and still-lifes in a more traditional style. After meeting the Australian artist, John Peter Russell, Matisse began to create works that showed influence of the Impressionist movement. His greatest influence was the French artist Paul Cezanne. He eventually became a part of the Fauves, or wild beasts, movement and exhibited his paintings alongside artists such as Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Gustave Moreau.
4. Matisse was ‘frienemies’ with Pablo Picasso.
They did not like each other’s paintings at first; however, they both seemed to sense the power each had to challenge and stimulate creativity within the other. Throughout their lives each would keep a close eye on the other’s work. They would often produce the same subjects and even sometimes works with the same titles. The artists had an exhibition at The Tate Modern in London, England that concentrated on the juxtaposition of their similar works. They never actually met face to face at this time. Their relationship could be described as a competition or a meticulously plotted chess game. Matisse once referred to it as a boxing match. In 1906, the two artists finally met. The meeting was set up by the well-known American art collector and avant-garde writer, Gertrude Stein. Regardless of their competitive nature, both ended up respecting the other as a person and a creative being.