Henri Matisse was born in Cateau-Cambrésis on 31 December 1869 in the north of France. He discovered his passion for art at the age of 19. At the end of his adolescence, while working as a clerk, Matisse took drawing lessons. A few years later, he began painting seriously during a long recovery due to an operation. Matisse came to Paris to pursue his law studies (1887-1889), but the temptation to paint became too strong, and, in 1891 Matisse left school to study painting in the studio of the academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

Although his early works, many of which are still lives and landscapes, remain dark, his palette changes after a holiday in Brittany. His works come alive, depicting figures bathed in sunlight and wrapped in undulating fabrics. Matisse, marked by the impressionists, experimented with different styles and techniques for rendering light. This stay gives him a better understanding of the impressionists’ luminist transcriptions. He is deeply marked by the works of Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Georges-Pierre Seurat and Paul Signac. A trip to Corsica, in 1898, finally convinced him of the clear painting and the sharp color chords. Back in Paris, working in different Academies, he met Derain, Jean Puy and Laprade. Matissse spends the summer of 19O4 in Saint-Tropez, where he discovers the process of pointillism, a new technique of dots or short strokes. In 1905, he joined forces with André Derain. Together, they travelled in the south of France to study the colors and light, which according to Matisse could not be found elsewhere.

In 1905, at the Salon d’Automne, these new works by Matisse, which were considered violent, were brought together in the same room with those by Derain, Friesz, Manguin, Rouault, Vlaminck, Dufy and Marquet, all resulting from the same search for pure color. The art critic Louis Vauxcelles, already at the origin of the word cubism, nicknamed the room where these works were exhibited “la cage aux fauves”, the artists were then nicknamed “les fauves”, a term evoking bestiality and savagery, accusing them of primitivism. The visitors were shocked by the “savage” use of color and by the “barbaric” nature of the subject. The name remained but it lost its pejorative character as the fame and respectability of the artists grew, and even ended up designating a real artistic movement: Fauvism.

In 1907, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso became friends. They often met and exchanged paintings; their names remain inextricably linked today. Together, they changed the art of the 20th century. Matisse is not impressionist, neo-impressionist or even cubist. He admires these schools, experiments with their techniques, but creates his own style. Matisse’s art is influenced by Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh. His canvases, still lives and female nudes, find the warm tones and the strict construction according to the plan of the painting. He belongs to the Fauvist group, considered one of the greatest precursors of Modern Art, which excels in the use of color and form to create emotional content. He is one of the most esteemed and influential painters in Paris.

Serge Shchukin is one of Matisse’s most important patrons. He regularly comes to Paris to buy everything in the artist’s studio and brings it back to Russia. A wealthy industrialist, he owns a large palace in Moscow and commissions two murals from Matisse on the themes of music and dance. So Matisse goes all the way to Moscow, where he soaks up the atmosphere of the cities on his way. Except for a brief trip to Morocco in 1916, Matisse remained in France for much of the First World War. He was forty-five years old when the war broke out, too old to go into battle. In 1917, he decided to leave Paris and move to Nice on the French Riviera. His artistic style and his use of colors intensified, especially in his wonderful and sensual paintings of odalisques and his interiors with windows wide open to the landscape.

In 1925, he was awarded the Legion of Honor for services rendered to the world of art. After undergoing cancer surgery in 1941, Matisse was no longer able to paint and simply standing in front of the easel caused him terrible pain. He then created his famous paper cut-outs that he made, with help, from a bed or an armchair. His assistants must paint sheets of paper with brightly colored gouache. Matisse cuts them out and places them on the canvas. Experimenting with this technique in an abstract and naive style and particularly appreciating this new practice, Matisse says he finds more fullness in his cuts than in his paintings or sculptures. In his assemblages of brightly colored pieces of paper, the drawing became the color, itself being the volume. He used the technique of cutting until the end of his life.

Henri Matisse died in Nice on November 3, 1954. Two Museums welcome Matisse’s works: the Matisse Museum of Nice, entirely renovated, and another one in Cateau-Cambrésis. Matisse remains world-famous for his painting, sculpture and graphic art, including his “cut-out” gouaches, etches and lithographs.