Pick A Decade


December 31, 1869

Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse is born in the cottage of his maternal grandmother in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France. He was raised in Bohain-en-Vermandois, an industrial textile center. Henri hates the northern winters.

His father, Émile Hippolyte Matisse, was a grain merchant whose family were weavers. His mother, named Anna Heloise Gerard, was a daughter of a long line of well-to-do tanners. She made hats and painted china. The young Matisse is a pensive child penchant to observe pigeons, a habit which he would reproduce in his later years.


Once Matisse finishes school, his father Émile, a much more practical man, arranges for his son to obtain a clerking position at a law office. Matisse consideres law as tedious, however he passes the bar in 1888 with distinction.

He remains bed-ridden for two years attack after an attack of of appendicitis. Soon after he abandons his studies to dedicate himself to painting after mother buys him art supplies during the period of convalescence. She was the first to advises her son not to adhere to the “rules” of art, but rather listen to his emotions. Matisse said later, “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”


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Matisse returned to Paris to study art at the Académie Julian and studies with the arch-academician William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the Symbolist Gustave Moreau. Matisse's own early style is a conventional form of naturalism. He makes numerous copies after the old masters but he also studies contemporary art, especially that of the impressionists. He begins to experiment, earning a reputation as the rebellious member of his studio classes.


He has a daughter, Marguerite, with the model Caroline Joblau. Marguerite would often served as a model for Matisse in coming years.


Matisse exhibits 5 paintings in the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The state buys two of his compositions. His work shows the influence of the post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Paul Signac but he is struck by Japanese art as well.


Matisse marries Amélie Noellie Parayre when he is twenty-eight. She devotes herself to her husband and urges him to pursue his artistic inclination. During the lean years she hires out as a hatmaker to help make ends meet. The marriage to Amélie also gives Matisse the opportunity to spend winters along the Mediterranean where he describes everything around him as “colour and light”.

Notwistanding the affection that unites them, Matisse tells his wife : “I love you dearly, mademoiselle; but I shall always love painting more.” The couple raises Marguerite. Two sons are born, Jean (born 1899) and Pierre (born 1900). Due to financial difficulties Mastisse lives temporarily with his parents. Amélie's parents were ruined in a spectacular scandal, as the unsuspecting employees of a woman whose financial empire was based on fraud. The family was supported through the sale of all the painter's still lives to a dealer who paid 400 francs apiece for them.


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Matisse earns some money painting a frieze for the World Fair at the Grand Palais in Paris. He traveles widely in the early 1900s when tourism was still a new idea. Brought on by railroad, steamships, and other forms of transportation that appeared during the industrial revolution, travel became a popular pursuit. As a cultured tourist, he developes his art with regular doses of travel.


Matisse arrives in Moscow on October 23. The next day, he visites the Tretyakov Gallery and asks to be shown their collection of Russian icons. Matisse is delighted by the icons and declares that to see them was more than worth the arduous trip. He spends much of his time in Moscow frantically visiting monasteries, churches, convents, and collections of sacred images.


While he is regarded as a leader of radicalism in the arts, Matisse begins to gain the approval of a number of influential critics and collectors. Together with Derain, Marquet, Vlaminck and Roauault, Matisse sparks off controversy. This event has a very positive effect on Matisse, who is severly demoralized by the poor reception of his work.

In these years he begins a lasting relationship with Leo, Gertrude, Sarah e Michael Stein from New York. The relationship with the Steins has a beneficial effect on the artist's life and work. Gertrude and Leo Stein acquire Woman with a Hat These collectors purchase a number of compositions and introduce his art to America.


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Matisse visits Munich to explore exhibitions of Oriental art.


Matisse arrives in Moscow on October 23. The next day, he visites the Tretyakov Gallery and asks to be shown their collection of Russian icons. Matisse is delighted by the icons and declares that to see them was more than worth the arduous trip. He spends much of his time in Moscow frantically visiting monasteries, churches, convents, and collections of sacred images.


Matisse relocates to Cimiez and stays principally at Hotel Regina,on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice.


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From the early 1920s until 1939, Matisse divides his time primarily between the south of France and Paris. He designs the stage sets and costumes for S. Diaghilev’s ballet The Nightingale (to Stravinsky’s music) and in 1939 for Léonide Massine’s ballet Rouge et Noir (to the music of Shostakovich’s first Symphony). During these years he begins a long series of "Odalische".

Schukin dies but Matisse is able to initiate important realtionsihips with two American art collectors: Albert Barnes and his sister Etta and Claribel Cone from Baltimore . Both are fiends of Gertrude Stein.

Matisse spends much time in the south of France, particularly Nice, painting local scenes with a thin, fluid application of bright color.


Matisse is made chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and in 1927 he received the first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition at Pittsburgh.


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A new vigor and bolder simplification appear in his work. The American art collector Barnes convinced him to produce a large mural for the Barnes Foundation, The Dance II, which was completed in 1932. The Foundation acquires several dozen other Matisse paintings. He also makes a trip to Tahiti, then visited New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.


Matisse meets the Lydia Delectorskaya, and by her own account she could hardly have been more different from the dark-eyed, black-haired, olive-skinned southern types Matisse had preferred until then. Lydia, who came from Siberia, had long golden hair, blue eyes, white skin and finely cut features: "the looks of an ice princess," as Matisse said himself. Lydia survives precariously on nothing but her pride, her resourcefulness and her unbudgeable will. Lydia had intrdouced herself in the Matisse household for temporary work, first as a studio assistant, then as a domestic, with Matisse and his wife. It was not for another three years that the painter asked her to sit for him.


Matisse is diagnosed with cancer and, following surgery, he begins to using a wheelchair. Until his death he is cared for by Lydia. Matisse, thoroughly unpolitical, is shocked when he discovers that his daughter Marguerite, who had been active in the Résistance during the war, was tortured and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Friends try to persuade the aging artist to leave France, but Matisse says, "If all the talented people left France, the country would be much poorer. I began an artist's life very poor, and I am not afraid to be poor again. . . . Art has its value; it is a search after truth and truth is all that counts."


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After the end of the war Matisse turns anew to monumental compositions. He executes numerous sketches for the stained-glass panel representing St. Dominique in the church at Assy, the interior decoration for the Dominican chapel of Notre-Dame du Rosaire at Vence (1948-51). In the same year a major retrospective of his work is presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and then travels to Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco.


In 1952 the Musée Matisse is inaugurated at the artist’s birthplace of Le Cateau–Cambrésis. Matisse continues to make large paper cutouts, the last of which was a design for the rose window at Union Church of Pocantico Hills, New York. He dies on November 3, 1954, in Nice.

Matisse progresses serenely with his decorations for the chapel, drawing his designs with a long charcoal-tipped stick on the walls of his bedroom, later copying them on tiles and transferring them to stained glass. This was his last work, he announces: "My bags are packed."


Matisse dies of a heart attack at the age of 84. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez and a Matisse Museum was opened in the area. At his bedside are his daughter, Mme. Marguerite Duthite; his physician, a nurse and his secretary. Mme. Duthite arrives in Nice from Paris a few days before to visit her father.

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