History recalls Henri Matisse as one of the giants of twentieth-century art. Readily identified with the fauvist (wild beasts) art style and later with paper cut-outs, Matisse continued experiments with color and line throughout his art career. Pablo Picasso, in a rare acquiescence to the abilities of another artist, considered Matisse an artistic equal. A variety of artworks by both artists recall or reflect the work of the other.
Born in Northern France in 1869 to a grain merchant father and a mother who was described as “artistically inclined” (she painted china and made hats), Henri Emile Benoit Matisse received little early encouragement to become an artist. At the age of 18 he was enrolled at the Faculty of Law in Paris, soon passed his law exams, and took a job as a law office clerk.
It was only after Matisse suffered appendicitis and was confined to bed for almost a year that he was afforded an opportunity to explore his artistic bent. Hoping to provide her recuperating son with activities to fill his empty hours, Matisse’s mother bought art supplies for him. Matisse began to copy paintings, and then later (after he was recovered from his illness), he took drawing lessons while continuing to work in the law office. Soon, Matisse abandoned law in favor of art. At the age of 22, he again traveled to Paris, but this time it was to study painting. Paris was rich in the arts, and Matisse availed himself of the many museums there, often copying masterworks in the galleries. By 1896, Matisse was successfully exhibiting his paintings in Paris. Within a decade, Matisse was the recognized leader of the art style known as fauvism — a style characterized by its unusual use of bold and often illogical colors. It was during this period when Matisse met Picasso for the first time. Although the initial meeting was not especially cordial, a relationship of mutual respect and professional exchange later developed.
In 1917, Matisse left Paris to work in the quiet atmosphere of Southern France. About a decade later, Matisse’s career lost momentum. Called a “has been” by art critics, Matisse could find little inspiration for creating art. Perhaps it was Picasso’s parodies of Matisse’s motifs that brought him out of his artistic slump. Indeed, comparing the two artist’s works during this time finds many similarities — a sort of visual conversation — suggesting that each interpreted similar subjects in their own styles. One such example is Matisse’s 1940 painting, The Dream, undeniably a reference to Picasso’s 1931 painting, Woman With Yellow Hair. Similar to the way his career began, a serious illness followed by surgery threatened to stop Matisse’s work. As a result of his illness, from 1941 until his death Matisse was often forced to work from his bed or from a wheelchair. Undeterred by overwhelming odds and spurred by Picasso to continue, Matisse triumphed with a variety of recognized masterworks including Large Red Interior.
Matisse died November 3, 1954 in Nice, France.