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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Henri Matisse

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Henri Matisse: Dec. 31,1869-Nov. 3,1954...France

"There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so, he must first forget all the roses that were ever painted."
~ Henri Matisse

Known as the "Liberator of Color,” (although his friends called him “the doctor”) Henri Matisse became an artist that has inspired many generations that followed. Matisse was born as the son of a grain merchant in the northern French town of Le Cateau. Originally, according to an interview published in the Paris Match Magazine, his parents wanted him to go into pharmacy. However, at eighteen years of age, he was sent off to study law and worked as a law clerk in Paris. When Henri Matisse was 21 years old he had appendicitis. During his recovery, he amused himself with some paints his mom got for him. Two years later, in 1892, he gave up his career as a lawyer. He attended art classes at the Académie Julian in Paris, under academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau, but after a year transferred to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with instruction by Gustave Moreau. He also sought advice from the wise master of impressionism, Camille Pissarro. There he experimented with a lot of art making styles, but was drawn into a Neo-Impressionism style with a strong Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne influence. He even said that Cézanne was "a sort of god of painting." Although the Impressionists were rooted in nature, Matisse felt that the work had to reflect emotions. "Color was not given to us to imitate nature. It was given to us to express our own emotions."


By 1905 Matisse finally found his style along with some fellow artists, including André Derain, whom would become known as the “Wild Beasts,” or Les Fauves. Strangely though, as a person, he was anything but a beast. He had a reputation as a careful artist who was very reserved with his thoughts. He was a very happy person who loved his work and his family. Painstakingly, he worked himself to the limits to create a new view of the world everyone knows. It was Matisse’s feeling that "if one wants a tree that looks like a tree it would be best to contact a photographer. A painter’s job is something else entirely; it is to express the feeling that the spectacle of nature provokes in him." Pablo Picasso became an admirer of his works around this time saying, "All things considered, there is only Matisse." Simplification of shapes, expressive color, and abstracted forms were characteristic of this style.

In 1914, during World War I, Matisse's hometown of Le Cateau was occupied by the Germans. Information about his family was not available. At the age of fourty-four, he was eligible to serve in the military and enlisted. He, however, was rejected because of a weak heart. After World War I, Matisse’s reputation grew and he became an internationally know artist. In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed and had surgery on abdominal cancer that limited his physical abilities, so his art had to adapt to his condition.

Matisse is known for his paintings, however, he worked in several media. Over the years, but most notably in the later ones, he worked in sculpture, book illustration, architectural design, and created paper cut-outs called dé coupage. As noted, in his later years, these varied art forms allowed him to work lying in bed or sitting in a chair.

Henri Matisse died on November 3, 1954 in Nice, France at the age of eighty-four, officially of heart failure. He was creating artwork until the day of his death. Actually it was the day before. His favorite model, Lydia Delectorskaya, came into his room with a towel around her wet hair. Seeing her great profile, Matisse was driven to draw her using a handy ballpoint pen. Holding it out to focus his eyes, what would be is last creative mark on our world, Matisse expressed with sadness, “It will do.”

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063