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Henri Matisse
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Birth Place: 
Le Cateau-Chambrésis, Picardy
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One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Henri Matisse’s devotion to color and his mastery of form and volume guided his art, as he created paintings, etchings, lithographs, linocuts, sculptures, artist’s books and book illustrations over his long and brilliant career. Born on December 31, 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambrésis in northern France, his initial career was as a lawyer, but he abandoned the law for art in 1891. He went to Paris and studied under William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) and Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) and took classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs. He finally passed the entrance examination and entered the École des Beaux-Arts in 1895. His first recognition came in 1896 when one of the works Matisse exhibited at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts was purchased by the French state. After marrying Amélie Parayre in 1898, they traveled to London, Corsica and her native Toulouse; the exposure to the bright Mediterranean light influenced his approach to color. After returning to Paris the next year, Matisse continued to paint landscapes and interior scenes, study at various art schools and copy Old Masters, but sold few works. His fortunes improved with his first one-man show, mounted by Ambroise Vollard (1867-1939) in 1904. A visit with Paul Signac (1863-1935) in St. Tropez that summer led to works in the pointillist style, and Matisse’s colorful painting Luxe, calme et volupte (1904, Paris: Centre Pompidou), shown at the 1905 Salon des Indépendants, was purchased by Signac. He spent the summer of 1905 in Collioure, on the Mediterranean coast near Spain. André Derain (1880-1954) visited him there, and the two began painting works with vivid colors. Later that year Matisse, Derain and others exhibited works exploding with color at the fall Salon d’Automne, where a critic dubbed them “Fauves” (“wild beasts”). One of those works, Matisse’s Femme au chapeau (Woman with a Hat, 1905, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), received much criticism but was purchased by Leo (1872-1947) and Gertrude (1874-1946) Stein. They and their brother Michael (1865-1938) and Michael’s wife Sarah (1870-1953) became eager collectors of works by Matisse. They sparked interest by other collectors such as Clarabel (1864-1929) and Etta (1870-1949) Cone of Baltimore, who began acquiring works by Matisse in 1906 and went on to build a collection of some 500 of his works. At a gathering at Gertrude and Leo’s apartment in 1906 Matisse met Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who would be a friendly rival for nearly fifty years. A large one-man show at the Galerie Druet that year increased interest in Matisse’s art, as did solo exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and New York in 1908. The first of his several three-year contracts with the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1909 insured greater financial stability. Visits to Morocco in 1911 and 1913 led to more color and oriental designs in his art. He focused energy on printmaking in 1914, creating lithographs, monotypes and etchings. In 1916 he began to spend winters in Nice, where he later lived. While continuing to paint and create sculptures, late in the 1920s Matisse returned to printmaking, creating some 200 prints in 1929 alone. Matisse received two important commissions in 1930. Swiss publisher Albert Skira (1904-1973) commissioned 29 etched illustrations for a book of poetry, Matisse’s first artist’s book. And Albert Barnes (1872-1951), who already owned several works by Matisse, asked him to create a mural to decorate the main hall of Barnes’s private museum in Merion, PA. While finishing the work, The Dance (I), (1931-1933, Paris: Museé d’Art Moderne), Matisse discovered that he had been given the wrong measurements, and created a completely new version for Barnes, The Dance (II) (1932-33, Philadelphia: Barnes Foundation). His relations with Amélie deteriorated, and they divorced in 1940. A continuing illness was finally diagnosed as duodenal cancer; Matisse underwent successful surgery in 1941 but had a difficult recovery. During the 1940s Matisse developed paper cutouts as a new medium. He had used cut out shapes of paper colored with gouache in planning The Dance and as the basis for the twenty plates in his famous artist’s book Jazz, published in 1947. He began creating autonomous works with cutouts, which he called “drawing with scissors,” most notably the Blue Nude series in the early 1950s. Matisse also used cutouts to create the designs for the stained glass windows, wall decorations and Stations of the Cross for the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, a project he started in 1948. The chapel was opened in 1951. Matisse lived another three years, then succumbed to a heart attack on November 3, 1954. (TNB 10/2013). Selected bibliography: Müller-Tamm, Pia, ed. Henri Matisse: Figure, Color, Space.. Exhibition catalog. Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2005. Schneider, Pierre. Matisse. Translated by Michael Taylor and Bridget Strevens Romer. Rev. ed. Paris: Flammarion; New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2002.