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Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse (b. 1869, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France – d. 1954, Nice, France) was one of the most important artists of the 20th century, known for his stylistic innovations that altered the course of modern art. His vast œuvre encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and paper cutouts. A master of color in his painting, the prints that Matisse produced prove how evocatively he could express himself in black and white—often paring his subjects down to a few fluid lines to suggest a figure or form.

Initially trained as a lawyer, Matisse developed an interest in art in his twenties, picking up painting while recovering from an attack of appendicitis. Two years later, in 1891, he moved to Paris, where he studied under William-Adolphe Bouguerau at the Académie Julian and, later, Gustave Moreau at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At first, he painted still lifes and landscapes in a traditional style, drawing particular inspiration from French masters, such as Antoine Watteau, as well as modern artists, such as Édouard Manet, and Japanese art. Later, he would venture into portraiture and paintings of the human body. 

Matisse began exhibiting at official Parisian salons as early as 1896. After spending two summers in the South of France pioneering a new pared-down, vibrant style, Matisse exhibited at the 1905 Salon d’Automne. There, critic Louis Vauxcelles famously derided the artist with the epithet “fauve,” or “wild beast.” Known thereafter as Fauvism, the style’s simple forms and fluid brushstrokes informed the rest of his œuvre: from minimalistic figure paintings of dancers to colorful paper cut-outs of flowers. Moreover, Matisse’s Fauvism captured the fascination of endless contemporaries—Georges Braques and Raoul Dufy, to name a few—and laid the foundations for abstraction in the midcentury. 

The artist picked up lithography in 1906, initially producing black and white illustrations for books and over 100 original lithographs at Mourlot Studios in Paris. Finding the medium to retain the same sense of spontaneity and intimacy as his painted or drawn work, Matisse eventually installed a printing press in his own studio. A wildly inventive printmaker, Matisse never ceased to experiment with new printmaking approaches: he made his first aquatint at the age of 62. Matisse created over 800 prints throughout his distinguished career. 

Matisse’s work has been the subject of innumerable solo and group exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; and Tate Modern, London, UK, among others. His work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Getty Center, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, among many others. 
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